Accra, March 5, GNA - Reverend Father Johannes Petrus Mokgethi-Heath, Executive Director of International Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV and AIDS (INERELA+) South Africa, has called for national support in fighting HIV related stigma and discrimination.
He said it had globally been accepted that HIV was no longer considered a moral issue but a medical condition that needed a multi-sectoral approach to halt the spread of the virus unto other generations.
"We can no longer pretend as if we are all righteous, except the few who have been bold enough to declare their HIV status, and bury our head in the sand, wishing the problem away. HIV is no respecter of persons including the clergy and therefore we must stop the blame game and find a lasting solution to the pandemic," he said.
Rev Fr. Mokgethi-Heath, who was on a familiarisation tour to acquaint himself with progress of the INERELA+ branch in Ghana, stressed that Ghana would not succeed in her fight against the eradication of HIV and AIDS without first eliminating stigma and discrimination against persons living with, or affected by the disease.
He emphasised the critical need for support and care for people living with the disease, rather than entrenching Stigma, Shame, Denial, Discrimination, Inaction and Misaction (SSDDIM).
Rev Fr. Mokgethi-Heath said it was important for Ghana to redirect her strategy of HIV education, using the anti SSDDIM and SAVE model to fight stigma and prevent further infection in order to achieve the objective of fighting the pandemic.
He explained that the SAVE model promoted the letters “S” as the use of Safer methods such as the Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT), elimination of negative cultural practices, spousal inheritance and safer blood transfusion; “A” as Access to Anti-Retroviral and good nutrition; “V” as Voluntary counselling and testing and “E” as Empowerment to knowledge and education on the disease.
Rev Fr. Mokgethi-Heath argued that strategies designed to halt the spread of infections were already indicting in nature and promoted stigma, shame, denial and discrimination against persons living with HIV, citing that since the “ABC” (Abstinence, Being Faithful and Condom Use) message has being centred on sex it made it easy to brand and accuse people infected with the disease as being promiscuous and therefore shunned by society.
He said the SAVE model covered all aspects of HIV and AIDS prevention and care in a non-stigmatize manner and encouraged members of the association to be bold in their efforts to eliminate stigma and discrimination to help halt further spread of the disease in Ghana.
Rev Fr. Mokgethi-Heath entreated members of the association to consider themselves as coaches, who had access to large teams, adding “the Lord want to ensure that His flock is well catered for and guided and therefore, you must not be discouraged by your conditions, but forge ahead and fight the good fight”.
Mrs Mercy Acquah-Hayford, National Coordinator of INERELA+gh, urged religious bodies to offer positive messages that would give hope to persons living with HIV and not condemn them especially those who had boldly and openly declared their status and championing the fight against stigma and discrimination.
She said the Ghana Chapter became the 19th member country in 2010, with a membership of 27, but its membership had increased to 48 religious leaders, who currently used the Anti-SSDDIM and the SAVE model to fight the pandemic in the religious arena.
Mrs Acquah-Hayford said apart from its official branches in Accra and Kumasi, it had members in the Volta, Northern, Western and Central Regions, where religious leaders and their spouses, living with HIV, were being equipped, empowered and engaged to live positively and openly as agents of hope and change in their communities.
She said members were taught how to overcome societal stigma, stimulate faith community responses, influence policies and service provision.
Mrs Acquah-Hayford said in spite of its achievements, the association was faced with the issue of limited funding as well as stigma against its members by their families, society and even the church.