I know I have been MIA for a while, but I am back with a report that has a different twist than what you’ve seen on my blog before. As I’ve said before, I love top travel. This report is about Ghana, West Africa, a country that I have visited several times. Check it out, and I hope you enjoy learning about some of the health challenges in Ghana.
Ghanaian Sex Education
By: Anna-Claire Terry
According to the records UNAIDS, there were 260,000 people living with HIV AIDS in Ghana in 2002. That year there was a reported 21,000 HIV deaths.
In 2013, 12 years later, Ghana saw a dramatic drop in cases of HIV AIDS. By this time, 220,000 people were living with HIV AIDS in Ghana. The HIV AIDS death rate was down to 10,000.
There is evidence that health officials in Ghana have known the causes of the spread of HIV for a long time, and sex education programs were not implemented in public schools until 2012.
Media in Africa have been praising Ghana and other West African countries for the recent decline of HIV. AFRICAW, an online news outlet, said “The number of HIV cases has reduced a lot with the girl-child sex education programs.”
The question is, why did it take this country so long to find ways to prevent a disease that kills so many each year?
In studies for the prevention of HIV, two main factors are emphasized: health conditions and sex education.
Sherry McWhorter is an American registered nurse who has done medical and mission work in Ghana for the past 5 years. She referred to the health conditions in the parts of Ghana she has worked in as “below standard.”
McWhorter said that healthcare facilities in Ghana lack basic medical technology that countries like the U.S. and have.
“Because Ghana is poverty stricken, they lack the funds to acquire the basic equipment needed to help maintain general conditions to prevent the spread of disease of any kind,” McWhorter said.
McWhorter pointed out that HIV is spread through bodily fluids and that there is no efficient way to clean every bit of bodily fluids in hospitals where resources are so limited.
McWhorter added that a large portion of the water supply in Ghana is not purified and comes from bodies of water that are not clean. This aids in the spreading of several diseases.
“Another problem is that a lot of people in Ghana have tribal tendencies,” McWhorter said.
McWhorter said that it is not unusual for men in certain villages to have up to five wives. Monogamy is not emphasized, and there are fewer “one to one” relationships in Ghana.
“It’s part of their culture and their history,” McWhorter said.
James Acheampong has worked in the medical field in Ghana for four years. He addressed the problem of sex education being nonexistent in school systems until fairly recently.
“More people are being infected with STI’s everyday,” he said. “Most teenagers, although sexually active, feel reluctant talking about sex and the use of contraceptives.”
Acheampong said that it is the younger adults that need the sex education most because sex is new to them. Acheampong said it is better to make them aware of the risks as teenagers.
UNAIDS’s statistics show that the age range where HIV AIDS is most prevalent is ages 15 to 49. The number of Ghanaian children who have been orphaned because of AIDS has reached 180,000.
Both Acheampong and McWhorter agree that the biggest factor in the spread of HIV AIDS has been a lack of knowledge and understanding.
“Sex education could be missing in this country because education in general is missing in many places. Some of these schools don’t even have books, much less sex ed programs,” McWhorter said.
Acheampong pointed out another problem with the general idea of sex in Ghana. He said it is sometimes too censored and not talked about enough. Therefore, sex education took so long to arrive in classrooms because it simply isn’t something Ghanaians are accustomed to openly talking about.
“We should try as much as possible to demystify sex and make it common knowledge amongst people so that they know exactly what they are getting into before they even decide to try having sex,” Acheampong said.
Acheampong said that the message being carried across needs to be modified. Acheampong said it would be better if the messages were made into videos that could be easy to remember and broadcasted to reach more people.
McWhorter, on the other hand, said that she thought Ghana was doing a good job of being direct about the risks of sex.
“You can be driving down the road and see a huge billboard about condoms and safe sex,” she said. “They’re not afraid to just come right out and say it.”
There have also been steps taken nationally to raise awareness of ways to protect oneself against HIV AIDS.
According to GhanaAids.gov, the Ghana Aids Commission has set up an “HIV Vaccine Awareness Day” and called for a scaled up action to find a vaccine for HIV.
“We are working actively and in partnership to combat HIV and AIDS through advocacy, joint planning and monitoring and evaluation of the eventual elimination of this disease.”
The commission plans to get more information about HIV and AIDS out to the people by promoting the benefits of HIV testing and counseling, encouraging community engagement in educational programs, and having ambassadors in the HIV clinics in the greater Accra region.
“Knowing what all can go wrong when you have sex cannot always work,” Acheampong said. “We must also stress abstinence, not only on moral and religious grounds, but also on health grounds.”
Acheampong said that there is no doubt that the government is taking steps to raise awareness about the dangers of unprotected sex, but that this action should have been taken a long time ago.
Acheampong also said that it is not enough to simply tell people the bad things that could happen, but that citizens of Ghana need to be taught that it is safer to abstain or keep sexual relations monogamous.
McWhorter said that she does not think that the Ghanaian government’s decision to put sex and HIV AIDS education into schools is too little too late.
“It’s never too late to try to fix things,” McWhorter said.