In 2020, the death of his best friend, Tawiah, reminded Nii Ayittey about the real dangers of AIDS. So when he heard of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) as an effective HIV prevention method, Ayittey did not hesitate to enrol in a PrEP programme.
Now a champion, Ayittey has dedicated his life to educating and encouraging his peers to use PrEP as additional protection against HIV.
“If we had information about PrEP in the past, I believe my friend would not have contracted HIV, ultimately leading to his death,” says Ayittey. “Now I am excited to be taking PrEP and educating people about this HIV prevention tool, which is helping to protect us from HIV infection,” he says.
Ayittey belongs to a key population group and as such, experiences barriers to accessing HIV prevention and treatment services. WHO considers people in such population groups as particularly vulnerable to HIV as they frequently lack adequate access to HIV services.
Therefore, Ayittey’s work as a community volunteer is critical to ensuring the wide-scale use of PrEP and reducing new HIV infections among his peers.
While new HIV infections in Ghana have dropped by 38% since 2010, there were still over 16 500 new infections in 2022. The Government of Ghana, with support from the World Health Organization (WHO) and other partners, is stepping up efforts to promote the uptake of free PrEP.
WHO first recommended oral PrEP in 2015, and now almost all countries in the African region have policies on oral PrEP. This prevention method reduces the risk of HIV acquisition by more than 90% and the effective use of PrEP has been identified as a key strategy to reinvigorate the HIV prevention response in Ghana.
The use of PrEP complements other HIV prevention approaches, such as the use of condoms and the provision HIV treatment to HIV-positive pregnant women to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
“PrEP is an important element in the HIV prevention toolbox as it addresses an existing gap and broadens the spectrum of preventative measures available to individuals facing a significant risk of contracting HIV,” says Dr Francis Kasolo.
With support from the United States Development Agency for International Development (USAID), WHO and partners developed national PrEP guidelines in 2020 and updated them this year. These partners have also trained over 300 health workers and community volunteers in nine of the 16 regions of Ghana to provide PrEP services. In collaboration with civil society organizations such as the Ghana-West Africa Programme to Combat AIDS&STIs, community outreach is ongoing to reach and educate people with information on HIV prevention services, including PrEP.
“Ghana has made progress in the availability and access to PrEP services,” says Dr Stephen Ayisi-Addo, Programme Manager at the National AIDS Control Programme. “We are leveraging community champions to ensure awareness and patronage of PrEP.”
Furthermore, in 2023, WHO and partners, with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, convened stakeholders from around the African Region in Ghana to discuss the building of the capacity of member states for the adoption of PrEP innovations and service delivery approaches to scale up accessibility within the continent. This includes the use of PrEP-IT Tool, a web-based platform for PrEP implementation planning, monitoring and evaluation and adopting targeted programming into national policies and guidelines within the context of the HIV prevention toolbox.
For people with a high risk of HIV infection like Ayittey, the use of preventive measures such as PrEP has been key to protecting them from HIV infections.
“I encourage everyone, especially young people to enroll on PrEP because it safe and effective. We must remember that prevention must always be our priority,” he added.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of World Health Organization (WHO), Ghana.