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In Ghana Success Battling HIV/AIDS Hangs In The Balance

In Ghana Success Battling HIV/AIDS Hangs In The Balance

I thought I would have to go looking for stories of hope amid despair at the HIV clinic for women and children located inside the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra, Ghana. The largest teaching hospital in Accra, Korle-Bu is on the front lines of the battle against infectious disease, but particularly HIV/AIDS. By western standards the hospital is bleak at best, with overcrowded waiting rooms and rudimentary laboratory facilities. A dedicated staff of nurses, doctors and volunteers ushered us through the facility, talking bluntly about the challenges they face daily in trying to reduce infection rates and prevent further spread of a disease that has torn through the African continent.

Then I met Doreen and Angela. Doreen is a 38 year-old married mother of two. Angela, at 10 months, is her youngest child. Doreen is HIV positive. Angela is not.

Doreen and Angela represent all that is working in the international effort to combat HIV/AIDS in Ghana. Doreen discovered she was infected with the virus during her first pregnancy eight years ago. Like other Ghanaian women, Doreen has tested positive for the virus while her husband has not. She says she has no idea how she contracted the virus or when exactly, but her body language and eagerness to shift the conversation away from her husband’s HIV status suggested otherwise. But for Doreen her HIV status is not the issue, nor is her husband’s. Her story, and the success of these public health efforts play out not only with her survival, but through her children.

Both of Doreen’s children are HIV negative thanks to the massive public health and education initiatives supported by The Global Fund and facilitated by the local Country Coordinating Mechanism (CCM). In Ghana approximately 16,000 people die from HIV/AIDS every year with 2500 of those deaths children. Approximately 2% of pregnant Ghanaian women carry the virus and it is estimated that 126,000 women and 32,000 children in Ghana currently live with HIV. Each year there are approximately 13,000 new cases of HIV reported, with 2,000 of those new patients children.

That Doreen is HIV positive but both her children are not shows that the efforts of pre-natal maternal testing and public education work. Pregnant women who are HIV positive can now start a prophylactic treatment as early as 14 weeks to prevent in utero transmission. For women who don’t know their HIV status, testing has become part of routine prenatal care, though admittedly a great number of Ghanaian women do not routinely access prenatal care. To address this challenge testing is also integrated into antenatal care with tests and checkups beginning at 2 weeks post birth.

The early intervention and testing regimen coincides with traditional antiretroviral protocols and a push to promote breast feeding among mothers. The result is that even those Ghanaian mothers who can afford formula breast feed exclusively for at least 6 months, provided their viral load permits. It’s a cultural shift that seems simple but carries profound consequences.

Talking to Doreen those cultural shift in attitudes surrounding HIV become immediately apparent. She talks openly about her status an an infected mother, her treatment regimen, life with her children, and her husband’s construction work. Living with HIV is her life, nothing more, nothing less. Her family lives just outside of Accra and she travels to the city twice a month to access her medications and for checkups. Her treatments are largely free for her, thanks entirely to the efforts and dollars of international community and work of The Global Fund. That support, she shared, is literally what keeps her alive.

Doreen’s story is a success, but a tenuous one. With the global recession and the recent decision by the Obama administration to back out of funding pledges, the community health initiatives that keep Doreen alive and that prevented transmission to her young children are in jeopardy. Ghana, like other African communities balance on the precipice with the AIDS pandemic. After years of steady success in educating Africans on transmission, reducing stigma surrounding HIV status and proving that treatments do work to keep Africans like Doreen alive, the dollars are drying up.

And when the dollars leave, so too does the hope for mothers like Doreen.

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Photo The Global Fund / Nana Kofi Acquah

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12 comments

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11:07PM PST on Dec 9, 2011

Please like the HIV Anti Stigma T-Shirt Campaign at facebook. https://www.facebook.com/pages/HIV-Anti-Stigma-T-Shirt-Campaign/254620757932620?sk=wall&fb_source=message

Thanks!

Arick-

7:27AM PST on Dec 1, 2011

Hi Ian F,
Without treatment, around 15-30 percent of babies born to HIV-infected women will become infected with HIV during pregnancy and delivery. A further 5-20 percent will become infected through breastfeeding.

Below you see why funding for HIV drugs and treatment is SO critical to help prevent mothers transmitting to their babies during birth and after...

Under the WHO (World Health Organisation) 2010 guidelines, HIV positive mothersshould receive an extensive course of antiretroviral drugs to prevent mother to child transmission. If these extensive drugs are not available, then the 2006 recommended course might be an option and a woman should begin taking AZT after 28 weeks of pregnancy (or as soon as possible thereafter). During labour she should take AZT and 3TC, as well as a single dose of nevirapine. Her baby should receive a single dose of nevirapine immediately after birth, followed by a seven-day course of AZT. The mother should continue taking AZT and 3TC for seven days after delivery, to cut the risk of drug resistance still further.

You can find out lots of information about all of this here: http://www.avert.org/motherchild.htm

1:50PM PST on Nov 30, 2011

Incredible the stories you hear about HIV infected mothers with healthy babies, I don't get it. Is it because mother and child have 2 separate imune systems or what?

12:57PM PST on Nov 30, 2011

Thank you for the article...

9:01AM PST on Nov 30, 2011

Hi...My Opinion is Without Basic of Health-HIV/AIDS-Sex-Sexuality Education start first from Home than School and at Collage as Complete Health Subject We never Win Battle Of AIDS...We need to do aware our Political Leaders & Pressure on them for Educational Reforms as Soon as Possible...Hugs All

8:12AM PST on Nov 30, 2011

Spreading awareness and education is the key to win this battle. I'm glad something like the Global Fund was created.

7:37AM PST on Nov 30, 2011

The way that HIV/AIDS is being treated like a political and fiscal "back burner" issue is shameful. It's a huge and major world health crisis and should be funded as such, even if there are bigger attention-grabbers in the news. Great post and thank you for your coverage.

7:31AM PST on Nov 30, 2011

Such a shame that rich bankers and shareholders got the money that could've kept more people like Doreen alive.

7:09AM PST on Nov 30, 2011

"In Ghana Success Battling HIV/AIDS Hangs In The Balance"

"In (fill in the blank) Success Battling HIV/AIDS Hangs In The Balance"

Why is Ghana important? It's run by corrupt politicians bribed by the same corporate interests that are not finding a cure for HIV/AIDS anywhere in the world because the profits from just "treating the symptoms" are too lucrative.

They don't want to kill the goose that laid their golden egg, do they?

6:16PM PST on Nov 29, 2011

Public health initiatives are a good thing! Prevention is always cheaper than treatment.

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