July 15th, 2018
I used to think that an HIV diagnosis in a developing country was equivalent to a death sentence. As I shared that I would be spending one month on this service-learning program in Ghana, I had people constantly reminding me to protect myself around blood. I knew exactly what made them say this—the preconception that they had about the prevalence of HIV in African countries.
During my second day at the Princess Marie Louise Children’s Hospital, I had the opportunity to shadow in the Retrovirus Clinic, where patients with HIV can seek treatment at no cost. In fact, there are clinics just like this one throughout the country because of the National Aids Control Program (NACP). The country has this program in place to control the cases and prevent the spread of HIV by providing labs, medication, and counseling for individuals who have been diagnosed.
The doctor who works in this sector of the hospital was extremely informative and took time to teach us about HIV management in Ghana. As expected, he told us that the stigma around HIV is still extremely prevalent throughout the country. Because of the stigma, many patients are not proactive about getting tested for HIV. The doctor told us that the clinics provide outreach programs and offer free testing to the community. If anyone tests positive, they are able to bring them in for counseling and begin treatment soon after. He told me that during the counseling, he informs the patients that they need to comply with the medication so that the virus does not build up resistance against it.
I was impressed by the treatment plan in place for patients with HIV. In Ghana, there are two lines of treatment. Each line is composed of three medications. When the virus is controlled, the patient will be able to live a normal life without the fear of a weakened immune system. Meanwhile, without treatment, the weakened immune system makes the patient more susceptible to opportunistic infections such as tuberculosis or pneumonia.
The country has also begun working toward preventative care. The Elimination of Mother to Child Transmission (EMTCT) is a program in place to protect babies born to mothers with HIV. When a woman gets pregnant, she is immediately tested for HIV. If she tests positively, the doctors will put her on treatment and then put the baby through treatment for the first six weeks of his or her life. The goal of this program is to completely eliminate mother to child transmission by the year 2020.
Overall, I found myself amazed by all that the country has put into gaining control of HIV in the country. In fact, less than two percent of Ghanaians have the disease. After my day in the Retrovirus Clinic, I felt encouraged by the management and prevention of HIV in Ghana. This program truly has opened my eyes to the importance of researching a situation before making any judgments.
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