December 1 is the day set aside to increase awareness of HIV/AIDS around the world. I'm old enough to remember when AIDS first came on the scene in the U.S., and what a horror it was. According to the website worldaidsday.org, HIV, the virus that causes AIDS was first identified in 1984. Since then, more than 35 million people have died from HIV or AIDS. Worldwide, 36.7 million people are living with HIV/AIDS. The numbers are staggering. HIV/AIDS has been one of the "most destructive pandemics in history."
According to the website, WorldLifeExpectency.com all but five African countries are rated as having a "high" death rate due to HIV/AIDS - the other five are close to the "high" level. In fact, most of the countries of the world with a "high" death rate from HIV/AIDS are on the African continent. This website lists Lesotho with the highest death rate from this disease - 761.77 deaths per 100,000 people. Ghana ranks #34 worldwide for HIV/AIDS deaths at 49.9 per 100,000 people. By comparison, the U.S. has 2.2 deaths from HIV/AIDS per 100,000 people.
There's a stigma attached to HIV/AIDS in Ghana. The Ghana Health Service is working hard to overcome misconceptions about the disease and to reinforce that being diagnosed with HIV is no longer a death sentence. Effective treatment is available for free. All the patient has to do is get to the hospital HIV clinic to get their meds.
However, it's a challenge to get people out in the villages to accept testing, especially if they know they're sick and suspect they have HIV. Sometimes they would rather accept their fate and avoid being ostracized by their community than know their diagnosis and treat the illness. In a small village, it's nearly impossible to maintain privacy, and the fear is that sooner or later everyone will know they're HIV positive.
The GHS is normalizing HIV testing by routinely testing everyone who comes to a health clinic, or to an event like our outreach health missions. We were happy to help the effort by testing for HIV during our recent Women's Health mission (see this blog for details). The GHS provided us with the rapid test kits, and we used every one they gave us. Out of 264 women tested, we had 5 positive results. Those women were counseled to go to the hospital for further testing. The common practice is to not tell the patient their diagnosis - but rather to let them know that they may have a serious health condition that requires more tests to diagnose. Unfortunately, we have no way to follow up with them to be sure they sought treatment.
But it's a start! Healthy Villages, Inc. will continue to work closely with the Ghana Health Service to do what we can to improve the health and wellbeing of the poor living in remote villages in Ghana.
Come help our efforts in 2018! We still have space available on our Dental/Vision, Pediatric, and General Health missions (click on the highlighted names to go to the page describing each mission). We've also organized four Fundraising Tours for those who want a more tourism focused trip. We look forward to seeing you in 2018!
Are you a health professional looking for the coolest scrub tops around? Go to THIS LINK to order a 100% made in Ghana, batik scrub top. Most unique scrub top you'll find! All proceeds go to support our work in the villages!