“GETTING TO ZERO”: LET’S KEEP THE MOMENTUM
I am Gabriel, a communication student of the Ghana Institute of Journalism. I have been a youth volunteer for the past five years as a means of fulfilling an inner quest of assisting to improve the lives of young people in and around Accra, my birth place. I tackle a number of young people-related issues which cuts across education, health, and policy formulation and implementation. I do these on radio programmes, community outreaches and discussions among peers. One issue I feel so passionate about is HIV/AIDS.
Few years ago, I shied away from skinny people with the fear of being infected with the virus by such persons. This preconceived notion came about as a result of how the disease was portrayed some years back. Aside being termed ‘Deadly’, some of us learned from school textbooks how ‘bonny’ and ‘dead-bound’ persons with AIDS were.
I strongly held on to my principle of alienation until the death of a close relative when I got to know he had lived with AIDS for the past five years. I never imagined I could be that close with the disease. My perception about HIV and AIDS changed from there. However, I got to know through this experience, how fast discrimination and stigmatization could make a person with HIV/AIDS die. I realized that the relative might have stayed longer had it not been the cold relationship meted out to him by family and friends.
As the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon once said, “Stigma remains the most important barrier to public action. It is a main reason why too many people are afraid to see a doctor to determine whether they have the disease, or to seek treatment if so. It helps make AIDS the silent killer, because people fear the social disgrace of speaking about it, or taking easily available precautions.”
At this juncture, let us all intensify our commitment in the response to HIV/AIDS even beyond the on-going International Conference on AIDS and STI’s in Africa (ICASA) in Addis Ababa,Ethiopia. Stakeholders, including governments, the media, pressure groups, religious organizations and individuals have a lead role to play in HIV/AIDS treatment, care and support at policy, strategy programs, implementation as well as monitoring and evaluation levels. We need to own the process of solving AIDS-related problems and sustain the level of progress being made in halting and reversing the spread of AIDS in our part of the world.
Millennium Development Goal 6 of the United Nations hopes to have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the spread of HIV and AIDS. Making this target see the light of day means that we really go by the theme of ICASA which seeks to scale-up all possible responses in addressing the critical gaps in prevention, treatment, care and support across Africa; where the disease is reported to have affected many lives.
The theme for this year’s World AIDS Day, “Getting to Zero” simply tells us that response to HIV and AIDS prevention ‘is not over until it is over’, hence the need to keep the momentum. It is prudent to intensify sensitization programmes, revive peer educators clubs in schools and communities, empower and live peaceably with all persons living with HIV and AIDS even beyond the ICASA conference.
For us as young people, I believe the message is clear, ‘prevention is better than cure’. You are either infected or affected. Let us all abstain, otherwise condoms should be used consistently.