People Living with AIDS in Ghana
This is a story that starts with its ending. “Do something new in my life, O Lord” was the closing song of a health workshop held in Ho, Ghana with group of People Living with Aids. The Evangelical Presbyterian Church Ghana took a bold step in embracing Agenda 21 and Poverty Reduction, a program inspired by the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and Targets. The EP Church Ghana understood the mandate given to nations at the conference held in Brazil to combat environmental degradation, to eradicate poverty and hunger, combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, reduce child mortality and improve maternal health would require doing something new.
The church understood this to be a major challenge but grasped the importance of developing the spiritual and physical body if it was to create a holistic ministry that would restore health and dignity to the people whom they served. This would mean moving beyond the traditional way of doing ministry. A direct result of this vision was the “People Living with AIDS programme “, which quickly became an ecumenical community project. With much nurture, care and education that centered on de-stigmatization, more than 450 persons have registered themselves as PLWA. They work as a team to help empower others to live positively and productively not just with HIV but other diseases attacking people – malaria, diabetes, leprosy, etc.
Thirty individuals – male, female, young and old – gathered at this particular meeting to continue their quest for knowledge and support. They came from far and near eager to learn. A registered dietician from the local hospital gave information on nutrition and the preparation of food. The flow of questions and answers during the discussion made all of us aware of how little we knew and how much we could learn about keeping our bodies healthy.
A pharmacist spoke of the church’s efforts, along with NGOs, to get Zirion, a multivitamin and multimineral supplement into the hands of the people to boost their immune system. It was deeply discouraging to learn that in the Volta Region of Ghana where much of the work of the church is carried out that there are less than fifteen persons with access to antiretroviral drugs because of cost and the severe shortage of medication. This is why the vitamin supplement has become so important. Zirion, manufactured in the USA, sells for $3 USD per tablet – an amount still unaffordable for the 30 individuals present – but served as an alternate to the more expensive drugs.
The blow that this shocking news brought was softened by the presence of a local farmer/philanthropist who has been growing and packing a local herbal plant for several years that has had tremendous results with HIV and AIDS patients as well as those in good health. He came to distribute packages of the herb to each individual. To see the life, the energy and sheer glow in the faces of those who have been using the herb, both as a tea and grounded in food, was awe-inspiring. Of course, this farmer is an example of locals returning to the beneficial healing powers of the earth being snubbed by those who thrive on the profits of chemicals manufactured in western labs. Every proposal to international donor organizations for local research and assistance to make medication affordable to the local people has been rejected.
The participants at this conference were not simply fed helpful knowledge. The organizers fully understood the importance of body and mind if they wanted to show how God could do something new in the lives of people. Each person was given packages of the herbal tea, the multi-vitamins, food, milk and other items. Also included in the package was 150,000 cedis (approximately $17 USD) which for some seemed like $5 000 USD.
In the “vote of thanks”, the gentleman chosen to speak on behalf of the group made all of us rejoice and proud to be part of such a historic moment in the life of the EP Church Ghana. He expressed gratitude to the church for standing with them, for giving them a chance to do something new in their lives.
By helping the community to remove the stigma they could live and enjoy life positively. Most especially, he thanked the church for allowing them to see and feel the presence of God through tangible gifts and actions.
“Do something new in my life, O Lord!” Amen.
Sandra R. Gourdet
Africa Office Executive