The Heart-to-Heart (H2H) Campaign was officially launched in 2011 during World AIDS Day in Obuasi in the Ashanti Region. The Campaign was to provide a human face to HIV, to show the public that anyone could be HIV positive. At that time, images of persons living with HIV (PLHIV) portrayed in the media were frightening and this contributed greatly to PLHIV being stigmatized and discriminated against in the society.
The idea behind the Campaign was to use PLHIV to drive a campaign that would have a positive effect on beliefs, understanding and behaviors including that of other PLHIV relating to HIV. The Campaign is steered by PLHIV, known as the Heart-to-Heart Ambassadors who have publicly disclosed their HIV status and share their life experiences with others in order to sensitize people to HIV, and drive down stigma faced by persons infected and affected by HIV and AIDS in the society, including self-stigma. The campaign is also to educate the public on general HIV issues as well as portray the fact that one can live a healthy and productive life despite being HIV positive, thus disabusing the public’s minds of the moribund pictures of PLHIV displayed in the media.
Together, the four Ambassadors addressed issues relating to stigma and discrimination against PLHIV in society. They also promoted the following themes: Prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV; Stigma and discrimination at the workplace; Couple Counselling and Support and Testing for HIV geared towards HIV prevention, education and advocacy.
The overarching objective of the H2H campaign is to deepen individuals’ knowledge on HIV, to cultivate preventive habits and to stimulate a positive response of Ghanaians towards PLHIV by showing acceptable attitudes towards them.
The benefits of the H2H Campaign are numerous and varied. They include:
* Running an HIV campaign with PLHIV who have firsthand experience and understanding of issues concerning HIV.
* Other PLHIV identifying more easily with the H2H Ambassadors as they share similar concerns and are able to relate more easily to them.
* The H2H Ambassadors are role-models to the many PLHIV who may have given up on life after discovering their HIV status.
* Public awareness through the life-stories shared by the H2H Ambassadors of how susceptible everyone is to acquiring HIV, and taking steps to avoid getting infected.
* The promotion of HIV Testing Services and encouragement of the public to access services.
* Addressing a major concern in HIV management which is stigma against and among PLHIV, therefore encouraging more acceptable societal attitudes towards PLHIV and HIV services.
* Contribution to Ghana AIDS Commission’s vision of making Ghana a country where HIV and AIDS
are eliminated through effective preventive education by the H2H Ambassadors on their campaign trail.
Profile of Rev. John Azumah.
Rev. John Azumah is HIV positive with his wife Mrs. Lydia Azumah who also has lived with HIV for the past 19 years. They are blessed with 4 Children. Rev. Azumah specializes in HIV couple counselling, general education on HIV stigma and discrimination, proper handling of orphaned children living with HIV. He holds a Diploma in Theology in Bible religious ministry. He is the Country Chair of the International Networks of Religious Leaders Living with and personally affected with HIV and AIDS with headquarters in South Africa. He has a special compassion program he is running with his wife on orphaned children living with HIV. He is the senior pastor of Hope International Ministry at Spintex Road in Accra Ghana. He is a public speaker, an advocate in stigma reduction and human rights issues for persons living with HIV. Rev. John Azumah uses his wife and himself as examples to people to follow in HIV issues.
Profile of Mrs. Lydia Azumah.
Mrs. Lydia Azumah is married with four Children who are all HIV negative. Like her husband, she has been living with HIV for the past 19 years. They both take their anti-retroviral drugs at Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra Ghana. Mrs. Azumah is also a specialist in couple counselling, general education on HIV stigma and discrimination. She is also compassionate in the area of handling children living with HIV and AIDS. She is a strong advocate in stigma reduction and gender based violence against women and children. She is an expert in using herself and the husband to educate people on national television, radio, and community-based approaches in reducing new HIV infection and helping eradicate stigma and discrimination.
Profile of Ms. Charity Owusu Danso
Ms. Charity Owusu Danso is a woman living with HIV. She has known her statues since 2002 after losing her husband to AIDS in the same year.
Since then, she has assisted governments, corporate organizations and philanthropists in and outside Ghana to render selfless social services to people infected and affected by HIV and the general population. She is the President of Crystal Homebase Organization, a support group of PLHIV. She became the Vice President to the Ghana Network of Persons Living with HIV (NAP+GH) from 2007-2012. She was called to join the Heart-to-Heart Campaign in 2011, by the Ghana AIDS Commission. This enabled her to embark on educational programs on HIV across country. Her personal interest is to get school leaving youths to be aware of HIV and how to prevent it, hence her outreach to schools in surrounding areas of Kasoa where she lives.
Profile of Gifty Torkornu
Gifty is also HIV positive and has been living with the virus for the past 16yrs. She is a discordant spouse with a daughter who is HIV negative. She lost a son 10 years ago to HIV. She has had several training on HIV through local and international workshops. She is a trained counselor on HIV, a Model of Hope and an advocate against workplace stigma. Gifty lives openly with her HIV status and is currently the President of YOWAs Foundation in Ghana, and the national coordinator of the International Community of Women Living with HIV (ICW) for Ghana. She is also a board member of West African branch of the ICW.
The H2H Campaign has been running for more than seven years and has undergone a number of phases that addressed specific needs at the period.
Phase One: 2011-2012
This was at the onset of the Campaign and involved careful identification and selection the H2H Ambassadors as well as their preparation for exposure.
Selection: To qualify as a H2H Ambassador, the person had to be HIV positive and on treatment. He/she should also be a voluntary advocate on HIV-related issues in their communities with a focus on HIV prevention, treatment and reduction of stigma and discrimination. The person had to be well known and accepted among his/her peers (PLHIV) and stakeholders of the National Response.
Preparation: To prepare them for their new role, the H2H Ambassadors were taken them through a series of counseling and training sessions.
Four consultants were identified and selected to take the H2H Ambassadors through a scheduled program. The four consultants were:
Through recordings of an interactive and supportive process with the consultants, the H2H Ambassadors introduced themselves to Ghana and the rest of the world on television and radio by the forename “I am ……, and I am HIV positive” recordings.
They were supported by other PLHIV representing the 10 administrative regions of Ghana who also provided messages on their HIV status in a recording. These were aired on television and radio.
Documentaries on Life Stories
A documentary was produced on the life story of each of the H2H Ambassadors. The documentaries highlighted the role and theme that each of the Ambassadors represented, while highlighting the stigma and discrimination they endured in the past, and is faced by PLHIV daily. The documentaries produced were aired on television.
Phase Two: 2012-2013
Phase two began at the launch of World AIDS Day (WAD) 2012 in November – at the Obra Spot Park at Kwame Nkrumah Circle in Accra. At this point, the H2H Ambassadors had warmed up to their roles and were willing and ready to take the Campaign beyond the Greater Accra Region. They embarked on a nationwide caravan, touring health facilities, media organizations, communities and schools and media organizations. The purpose of the tour was to spread the anti-stigma message throughout the entire country, give general education on HIV prevention and management and bring hope to the many PLHIV who may have given up on life after discovering their HIV status. The caravan tour also gave the H2H Ambassadors a better insight into people’s perspectives of HIV and AIDS after interacting with a cross-section of Ghanaians infected and affected by the epidemic across the nation.
During this period, the H2H Ambassadors also had numerous engagements with traditional leaders, political leaders and the youth living with HIV. The Campaign and Ambassadors became household names. They received personal calls from thousands of people in distress.
4.3 Phase Three: 2014 to Date
The H2H Ambassadors embarked on new ventures in their quest to drive home their anti-stigma message. Here are some of the activities they undertook.
High-Level Advocacy with Her Excellency the First Lady:
Global and national concerns in HIV emphasize prevention of new infection especially among infants. With the high level advocacy by Her Excellency the First Lady, Dr. Nana Lordina Dramani Mahama on prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV and keeping mothers alive, the H2H Ambassadors joined the First Lady on her nationwide advocacy. The H2H Ambassadors’ role was to share their life stories to discourage stigma against PLHIV in society and also give first-hand experience on the benefits of prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, as well as providing a role-model to raise male champions for HIV Testing, Couple Testing and PMTCT.
During the adjunct health outreaches, they also provided HIV prevention education, condom education/demonstration and counseling to newly diagnosed PLHIV.
Visits to Anti-Natal Clinics
The purpose of the visits includes promoting PMTCT, reducing mortality and morbidity among PLHIV through effective treatment compliance, adherence etc.
The H2H Ambassadors toured a number of antenatal clinics (ANC) and Antiretroviral Centers in Greater Accra region to encourage pregnant women to test and know their HIV status in order to protect their babies from HIV and to encourage PLHIV to adhere to their medication. The H2H ANC Caravan was launched on 15th April, 2015 at La General Hospital. Since then, numerous facilities have been visited in the Greater Accra and Volta regions.
At all of these facilities, the H2H Ambassadors interacted with the clients and nurses at the anti-natal clinics and at the antiretroviral treatment sites in question and answer sessions. During the interactive sessions, packs of information, education and communication materials were given to the facilities and shared among participants.
In order to dissuade information on key topics and educate wider forums of people, the H2H Ambassadors had a series of engagements with specific radio and television stations and the generality of other ones. Some of the issues discussed were:
Personal and Individual Projects
The H2H Ambassadors have over the years developed personal interests in HIV and AIDS and each one has embarked on a personal project to reach out to persons they consider vulnerable to HIV with education and a variety of items. Each H2H Ambassador drew up a budgeted proposal on his/her project which was reviewed and approved for execution. These are the areas that the H2H Ambassadors chose:
Ms. Charity Owusu Balou Youth
Rev. and Mrs. John Azumah Orphans and Vulnerable Children
Ms. Gifty Torkornu Degbe Skills Training for Women
So far, all four H2H Ambassadors have executed parts of their projects. All the H2H Ambassadors participated in each-others projects.
Ms. Owusu Balou invited Schools from the Central Region to a durbar to sensitize them to HIV and AIDS, STIs and Reproductive Health. The exercise was especially tailored for Juniour Secondary School Form 2 and 3 students to boost their knowledge in these areas before coming out of school. About 1,180 students from fifteen schools benefitted from the initial fora which were held on June and July 2014 and March 2016. The project was successful with calls from schools for the H2H Ambassadors to follow up with individual visits to the schools.
Rev. and Mrs. Azumah with their interest in vulnerable children held a series of meetings with such children and their care-givers at the Ashaiman Polyclinic. The meetings were held on 28th March 2016, 30th April, 2016 and 29th May, 2016. The purpose of the meetings was to enquire about their health and up-keep as well as encourage both children and care-givers to keep up with their tasks and ensure that the children take their medicines. The Azumahs presented donations of food, stationary, school items and T shirts to the children and their care-givers.
Ms. Torkornu Degbe has held sessions with young women to give them skills training in beads making and soap making. The purpose is to empower them with a skill that would be a source of income generation for them.
With their role as HIV ambassadors and because of the different publics they constantly interact with, the H2H Ambassadors under-go regular capacity building to ensure that they are kept abreast of HIV issues and also comport themselves appropriately in public.
Training sessions looked at communications, psychosocial support and HIV issues. On-going workshops by the Ghana AIDS Commission designed to build the capacity of the H2H Ambassadors will focus on problem identification and solving, proposal writing, community engagement, leadership values etc.
The H2H Ambassadors will participate in major national events such as the First 90 Campaign, World Tuberculosis Day, Family Planning week, International Youth Day, Partnership Forum and Business Meeting and the World AIDS Day.
During such functions, the H2H Ambassadors will share their life experiences on stigma, interact with the public and share information, education and communication materials.
Where possible, each program or outreach has been coupled with HIV Testing Services with the H2H Ambassadors either participating in offering the service of providing pre and post-test counseling.
The Ghana AIDS Commission is a supra-ministerial and multi-sectoral body established under the Chairmanship of H. E. the President of the Republic of Ghana by Act 2016, Act 938 of Parliament. The objective of the Commission is to formulate policy on the HIV and AIDS epidemic and...find out more