At a glance: Ghana

Real lives

In Ghana defeating AIDS is a matter of attitude

"Have you ever seen a fisherman with AIDS before? It's not real. It never happens here. At best, even when it does, the salt in the sea is enough to kill the virus," says a young fisherman in the Chorkor area of Ghana's capital, Accra. He is not alone in his view.
Members of the Youngsters Peer Education Project (YPEP) -- a non-governmental organization working with UNICEF to educate young people about HIV/AIDS -- spoke to many young fishermen and found they shared the same beliefs.

They see HIV/AIDS as an inland disease. This is not surprising, as they have seen AIDS patients only on television and don't know anyone in their industry or community who suffers from the disease. They did not know that a number of children from Chorkor had tested HIV-positive.

This was the situation YPEP had to deal with when they chose Chorkor as one of the areas for their Change For Good peer education programme. The programme aims to change behaviour by informing people about HIV/AIDS, a task especially important in communities like Chorkor where most people cannot read and many engage in high-risk practices such as having multiple sexual partners.

Joseph, 29, married early and believed he could have as many girlfriends as he liked. He initially treated YPEP as a joke, but later realized that his behaviour was contributing to the spread of HIV/AIDS.

"Girls like me," he says. "And when I move with them a little we jump into bed the next moment. But now this is a thing of the past. Some of the girls come to me still, but I have strongly told them that I should be faithful to my wife."

Changing attitudes and behaviours like Joseph's involves a lot of time and hard work. Since so many people in Chorkor are illiterate, spreading awareness about AIDS is best done person to person. One of the keys to the success of the peer educators is that they come from the local community and know its problems.

Beatrice Quarshie, YPEP Field Coordinator, acknowledges the shift in attitude of the members. One young man told her that if he had not joined the group and changed his life, he would have asked her to be an additional wife.

Gradually perceptions about HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases are changing in Chorkor. When people in the community see others acting recklessly, they now say: "Don't do that. Be careful. AIDS is here…"

YPEP is helping to change attitudes and behaviours in Chorkor for good, with UNICEF's assistance. In time Chorkor may well become a place where HIV/AIDS is not prevalent - not because of the salty sea water, but because the people have been armed with the appropriate knowledge.



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