The World AIDS Day was marked on Saturday to remember the over 35 million people who have lost their lives to AIDS-related illnesses and intensify the campaign to save people from dying of a treatable disease.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day under the theme "Know your status", encouraging everyone to know their HIV status.
Since 1988, huge progress has been made in diagnosis and treatment, and prevention efforts have brought down new infections. Experts say HIV testing has enabled expansion of treatment to ensure that all people living with HIV lead healthy and productive lives. It is also crucial to achieving the 90-90-90 targets and empowering people to make choices about HIV prevention so they can protect themselves and their loved ones.
This is good news. However, there is another, not so positive side to the AIDS response efforts. "The pace of progress is not matching global ambition. New HIV infections are not falling rapidly enough. Some regions are lagging behind, and financial resources are insufficient" says the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres in his message to mark the day.
For 2018 however, the key message is to encourage everyone to know their HIV status. Unfortunately, stigma and discrimination are still prevalent in many parts of the world, including Ghana.
This deters people from testing to know their status.There is an estimated 313,000 people living with HIV in Ghana and about one third of them do not know their status. In Ghana, the problem is compounded by taboos and misunderstandings about HIV.
For instance, the Ghana Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2017/18 revealed that eight in every ten women reported discriminatory attitudes towards people living with HIV and this was lower for men at 74% (about 7 in every ten).
Furthermore, the survey showed that only a third of pregnant women were offered an HIV test, accepted, received results and post-test health information or counselling related to HIV during their last pregnancy.
The danger is that when people do not know their status, they are unlikely to seek medical care and prevention services.
According to the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) there is a need to scale up testing so that we reach the target of 90% of the people living with HIV in Ghana knowing their status. "Knowledge is power and when you know your status you can make informed decisions about your health" says UNAIDS Country Director in Ghana Ms Angela Trenton-Mbonde.
There are many new ways of expanding access to HIV testing. Self-testing, community-based testing and multi-disease testing are all helping people to know their HIV status. When people know their status, they can access treatment, they can protect themselves, their families, their partners, they will be sure that the treatment is effective, protecting their health and stopping HIV transmission.
UNAIDS's message is simple: "Live life positively. Know your HIV status."