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Galamsey menace stoking new HIV infection rate – Dr Atuahene

The galamsey menace can substantially contribute to new HIV infections and further undermine progress towards the elimination agenda, Dr Kyeremeh Atuahene, the Director-General of the Ghana AIDS Commission, has said.

He said a recent study that assessed the impact of natural resource extraction projects on HIV transmission risks in local communities in 16 sub-Saharan African countries, including Ghana revealed that mine opening increased the odds of HIV infection almost two-fold and that the strongest effects were seen in 20-29-year-olds.

Dr Atuahene was addressing the national durbar organised by the Ghana AIDS Commission (GAC) to commemorate the 2022 World AIDS Day and the Commission’s 20th anniversary.

It was on the theme: “20 Years of a Multi-Sectoral HIV Response: Accelerating Progress to End AIDS.”

He said the study also revealed that new mine openings were associated with increased risky sexual behaviors, such as having multiple sex partners, high-risk sexual partners, and unprotected sex with high-risk partners.

“These findings by Dietler and colleagues should strengthen our resolve to end this menace in the country,” he added.
Dr Atuahene said HIV programmes in mining communities needed to expand services to cover miners, including galamseyers and women to help prevent new infections in those communities.

He said the GAC was therefore working with the Chamber of Mines and stakeholders in the mining communities to strengthen research and HIV service delivery.

As of December 2021, the estimated population of HIV-positive persons in Ghana was 350,000, with only 71 per cent identified.

Out of the figure, over 245,000, representing 99 per cent, were on treatment as of June this year.

A survey conducted by the GAC also indicated that the prevalence of the disease was higher in men who had sex with men, with a prevalence rate of 18 per cent; female sex workers, with a prevalence of 4.6 per cent, and those who have STIs, with a prevalence of about 12 per cent.

The Director-General noted that urgent steps were needed to arrest many new infections.

He said, “It is up to every person to take responsibility for protecting him/herself from HIV infection by adopting protective behaviors such as partner reduction, correct and consistent use of a condoms and testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

“Knowing your HIV status is an important part of effective HIV prevention. So test and know your HIV status,” he added.

Dr Atuahene said despite the gains made, stigma and discrimination manifest in various forms and places remained a major hindrance to the national response.

Ms Elsie Ayeh, the President of Nap+ Ghana, pleaded with parents and authorities to allow young ones to learn to be responsible. “Allow them to know what it means to prevent themselves from being infected by HIV.”

Ms Ayeh called on Persons Living with HIV to take the right steps, go for treatment, protect their partners as well as themselves to help Ghana achieve its 2030 target of reducing AIDS related deaths and achieving pandemic control.

She encouraged Ghanaians to get tested saying, “it doesn’t hurt to know your status or get on treatment. It rather strengthens one to live life as long as intended. Let us not be selfish but rather work together to reduce new infections.”

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