The number of Ghanaians waiting to see a Model of Hope HIV/AIDS counselor filled half of the general waiting area of the Koforidua General Hospital on Wednesday. Wednesdays are clinic days at Koforidua General where the 450 bed hospital is literally a one-stop shop for Ghanaians living in the eastern region of their country. On this particular day there were two doctors on staff to service about 600 patients seeking HIV/AIDS treatments. That does not include those there for general illness, surgical issues, or pediatrics.
Models of Hope is a program facilitated by Catholic Relief Services through monies obtained by The Global Fund. Models of Hope trains people living with HIV to serve as community counselors and liaisons to newly diagnosed patients. One of the ideas behind the program is that for those individuals coming to terms with their new HIV status, a peer, someone who is also living with the disease can serve as a support and ultimately create a better health outcome for that individual. So far there’s reason to believe that idea holds a lot of truth.
At 4.2% of the overall population, HIV infection rates are the highest in the eastern region, something hospital administrators attribute to a variety of factors including the poverty and illiteracy in the region and it’s location in the center of the country. To get anywhere in Ghana you will, at some point, travel through the eastern region which means a transient population that can more readily spread the disease.
HIV infection rate falling
But over the past couple of years, that infection rate has dropped from about 7%. Counselors are paid a small stipend which, according to 48 year-old Owusu Alfred, is just enough to get by. Alfred first learned he was HIV positive in 2005 and credits the Models of Hope program with keeping him alive today.
Owusu now works as a counselor, which means he is at the hospital five days a week, averaging about 12 hours a shift. Owusu performs a number of tasks. He bathes bed-ridden patients, feeds them and helps get them dressed. For those not quite so sick he checks in to see how they are coping, to help keep them remain medicinally compliant and to function as a peer and a friend. Since many Ghanains are rejected by their families once their HIV status becomes known, it is a crucial role that prevents some patients from quite literally dying alone.
Both Owusu and his wife are HIV positive, and thanks to his work with Models of Hope Owusu gets about 70 Gahnaian Cedi per month, or the equivalent of $112 dollars per month to live on. That modest stipend means he and his wife can afford food and a modest rent in exchange for Owusu’s dedication to his community.
It is not much, especially by standards in the developed world. But even that small amount is at risk. The sustainability of this program and others that have successfully reduced infection and transmission rates depend on funding and funding is no longer a guarantee — and that threatens all the good that Owusu and the other Models of Hope counselors provide.
Care2 blogger Jessica Pieklo is reporting from Ghana as a guest of The Global Fund to help bring attention to efforts to eradicate malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. You can read more of Care2.com’s coverage here.
Photo © The Global Fund / Nana Kofi Acquah