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Religious Leaders in Ghana Join AIDS Fight

In Ghana, religious leaders are agreeing to spread awareness about AIDS and to help end the stigma surrounding the disease. Religious leaders meeting in the Ghanaian capital said they are in a position to spread the word among their followers, regardless of their faith. Efam Dovi has more in this VOA report from Accra.

People living with HIV/AIDS in Ghana suffer discrimination from friends, family and society at large. Rights organizations say HIV/AIDS sufferers are often forced out of their homes or jobs, because of the stigma associated with the disease.

Activists fear that is contributing to the spread of HIV, because those infected with the disease keep their status secret to avoid discrimination.

Religious leaders discussing the issue in Accra as part of World AIDS Day, agreed to embark on an aggressive education campaign.

Reverend Paul Fynn chairs the Christian Council of Ghana.

"By preaching in our churches, presenting this in our mosques, in our assembly places, in our meeting places, in our workshops, to help people to understand, so that they don't actually run away from this," he said.

Reverend Fynn says religious leaders, regardless of their faith, can reach large audiences.

"Because almost everybody belongs to a religion, one way or the other, somebody, somehow, somewhere, belongs to one of the faiths. It could be a Methodist, a Presbyterian, Lutheran, Catholic or a Muslim, or even Bahai and Hinduism, and also even the African traditional religion," he added. "People belong to that, they have faith. So, when you target religious organizations, you are targeting the whole country, and that is why we are serious about it."

Authorities say the HIV/AIDS infection rate in Ghana has dropped by 13 percent within the last two years, and they say public awareness has contributed to the decline. However, the majority of those living with the disease are unable to afford even the 90 percent subsidized treatments.

Professor Sakyi Awuku Amoa, who heads Ghana's AIDS Commission, a government body that manages and coordinates the country's response to the disease, says religious organizations also should offer concrete help to AIDS victims.

"And, I think, the churches will need to assist those who have been kicked out from their homes, those who do not have gainful employment to get employment, or to get even homes," said Professor Sakyi Awuku Amoa. "And once they do that, then, the Christian principle of helping one another will then be seen to be practiced."

An estimated 400,000 of Ghana's 20 million people are infected with HIV/AIDS.