The ultimate aim of Ghana’s efforts at achieving epidemic control and ending the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030 means, it is critical to reduce the annual number of new infections in the country to less than the number of deaths among persons living with HIV.
This quest can only be possible when protection and promotion of the rights of PLHIV and key affected populations effectively are integrated into HIV/TB programmes. This is to ensure effective prevention of new infections and that every person living with HIV/TB has access to prevention, treatment and care services. In other words, human rights-based approach is a critical enabler for a successful national HIV/TB response.
Human rights-related barriers continue to hamper uptake of HIV, TB and malaria prevention, treatment and care services in the country. Over the years, human rights and gender-related inequalities have remained major barriers that make people vulnerable to HIV and TB and hinder their access to prevention, treatment, care and support services.
Several studies across the world have demonstrated that the critical human rights barriers to HIV and TB include: neglect, rejection, denial of services, stigma and discrimination, unjustified involuntary detention of patients or suspected “carriers”, mandatory testing, travel ban, punitive laws, wrongful application of criminal law, gender inequality and violence, including gender-based violence. Ghana has its fair share of some of these human rights abuses. It is important for all relevant stakeholders to work together to address these issues in a more comprehensive way.
In the course of the last decade, the Ghana AIDS Commission has taken concrete steps to expand the frontiers of rights-based approaches to the national response through policy and legislation. First and foremost, the Commission has developed and implemented two medium-term rights-based national HIV and AIDS strategic plans which, not only protect and promote the rights of PLHIV, but also prioritise services for key affected and vulnerable populations (FSWs, MSM, prisoners, injecting drug users, .
Secondly, the National HIV and AIDS Policy which provides a framework for national policy objective for the control of the epidemic is strongly founded on human rights and public health principles and standards. Lastly, the Ghana AIDS Commission’s Act 2016 (Act 938) contains comprehensive provisions on human rights principal among which are:
In strengthening of the enabling environment created through progressive policies and legislation, the Commission works with partners and implementers to build capacity of judges, lawyers and community members (as para-legal), the police and other law enforcement agencies in HIV-related human rights issues and the need to safeguard and protect PLHIV and those vulnerable to HIV infection irrespective of their gender and sexual orientation. In deepening rights protection and prevent abuse and gender-based violence, community rapid response systems were created and used over the last two decades. Central to these community systems are the operations of M-Friends and M-Watchers.
KPs face discrimination, harassment, violence, human rights abuses, sexual and gender-based violence and coercion which directly affect their health seeking behaviors.
M-Friends who are peer educators and M-Watchers, mainly lawyers, doctors, nurses, police officers and traditional leaders who are knowledgeable about KP issues have been trained across the country to set up a community based networking system called the complaint resolution and referral service (CRRS) to identify and direct or refer abused KPs for health, legal and psychosocial services. To complement these efforts at the community level, the Ghana AIDS Commission, in collaboration with CHRAJ has developed an online reporting system to track cases of abuse suffered by PLHIV and KPs in all districts of the country.
However, these innovative interventions have not received adequate investments and lack sustainability. Therefore, the Commission seeks to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of these innovative interventions and bring them to scale in order to realize the human rights protection aspirations of the national response.
These interventions continue to be guided by research studies such as legal audit, stigma index study, stigma and discrimination study in health facilities and baseline assessment on the human rights situation in Ghana.
Significant progress has been made and the gains made so far ought to be consolidated. It is in this vein that the Ghana AIDS Commission is vigorousely mobilising stakeholders and other social forces to work together in removing human rights barriers that limit access of the people to health services. It is in this regard that the Commission recently organized a multi-stakeholder consultation to discuss HIV/TB human rights interventions.
The consultation brought together a wide range of stakeholders and technical partners to discuss progress of implementation of human rights interventions, identify gaps, deliberate and strategize to consolidate gains made so far by establishing concrete steps towards the design and implementation of expanded human rights interventions at all levels of the national HIV/TB response. The meeting was also used to identify technical and financial resources for the sustainability of the human right interventions.
The outcome of the multi-stakeholder consultation is being used to inform the development of a 5-year National Strategic Plan to comprehensively address human rights issues of HIV/TB in the country.
Safeguarding the rights of the PLHIV and KPs is a collective responsibility; the onus lies on all Ghanaians to make a contribution towards the protection and promotion of the rights of PLHIV and KPs. A human rights approach is essential to achieving the 90-90-90 targets and ending AIDS as public health threat.
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