Tuesday, August 9, 2016


Key populations! Now who exactly are they and why do we refer to them as key populations? The easiest way to understand them where HIV and AIDS is concerned is that they are  groups of people within the general population who are most at risk of contracting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Key populations include both male and female sex workers, men who have sex with men, transgender people and sometimes vulnerable groups of people who for some reasons cannot access proper healthcare and treatment for the ailments they suffer from.

Prostitution is seen as a criminal activity in some countries of which Ghana is one. At the just ended 21st edition of the International AIDS Conference held in Durban, South Africa, and organized by the International AIDS Society, Chief Inspector Thomas Salifu Ndeogo of the Public Health Department of the Ghana Police Service made a presentation on who the focus should be on regarding issues of morality when enforcing the law. In the presentation, he made mention of the fact that some time ago, the Police arrested alleged sex workers at various places within the country and used condoms they were carrying as evidence of their sex trade. Now the first question here is, if agencies like the Ghana AIDS Commission, civil society organizations and NGOs are calling for safer sex practices through the correct and constant use of condoms, how then do you arrest someone and possibly prosecute them for carrying condoms?
Dr EL-Adas of Ghana AIDS Commission and Chief Insp Ndeogo after his presentation
Ghana has recorded significant progress in the fight against HIV and AIDS over the last decade. The national prevalence has plateaued around 1.3% in the general population within the 15-49 year gap for the past few years.  However, the situation with persons within the key populations is different and worrisome as their prevalence rate is about fifteen times higher than that of the general population. For instance among men who have sex with men, the prevalence is 17% while it is 11% among female sex workers according 2015 IBSS. The worrying situation can further be attributed to some social, political, religious and legal settings and challenges that do not promote access to treatment and care services for these groups of people.
The conflict of promoting safer sex amongst the population, and using condoms as evidence to prosecute sex workers is a bad situation that stands in the way of advocates, law enforcement agents and the very people who need to be protected.
In a country like Ghana where some laws are sometimes created based on prejudice, fear and myths but not on science or research, issues of intolerance and human rights violations will be on the increase.
The Ghana Police Service together with John Hopkins University developed a training manual which focused on stigma and discrimination reduction among key populations. The manual is in two parts which are the training school manual and the in-service manual for Officers already in the Service. This is targeted at improving knowledge of police officers in the area of HIV/AIDS and its related stigma and discrimination practices.

The AIDS Control program of the Ghana Police Service is also trying to educate the officers on issues relating to HIV and AIDS and their role as law enforcement agents in mitigating the increase in prevalence. Together with the UNFPA Ghana office, a program using focus group discussions was implemented in six out of the fourteen Police Regions of the Service to solicit information on how the Police will identify sexual minorities or key populations, how they can define and analyze laws that classify key populations and to increase the understanding of what constitutes the causation of a sexual offense as against public morals as stipulated in the Criminal offenses Act 29/60.
The focus group discussions brought to light the low levels of knowledge on identification of possible offenders especially among junior officers. In a response as to how a female sex worker can be identified, some responded that they are identified based on the skimpy short dresses, long earrings, exposed breasts, chains on their legs, fancy hairstyles and their location especially at night.
The discussions also brought to light the fact that some officers of the Ghana Police Service did not fully understand the Criminal Offenses Act where the description of offenses relating to unnatural carnal knowledge were concerned. Issues on what constitutes sexual offenses against public morals also found the officers generally lacking.
From these focus group discussions among the various sub jurisdictions, the Service realized that the Personnel need to be sensitized on being more professional in their dealings with every segment of the society. Some senior officers admitted that sometimes they find themselves in puzzling situations where they try to protect the rights of these key populations but they are compelled to go after them due to political and societal pressures.
Laws are usually more rigid than issues bothering on morality, hence the two must be decoupled while a greater supervision of personnel, especially those in the patrol teams was called for.
The Ghana Police Service, noting some of the discrepancies in the dispensation of their duties, and how closely those dispensations bothered on the rights of some of these individuals agreed to sensitize its personnel in order for them to better understand the intricacies of dealing with people within the different population units. Some may ask why the focus on key populations. Well this has a simple explanation. Persons within the key population groups are not always confined to those groups. For instance a man who has sex with other men could also be having sex with a woman in the general population. This woman could be having sex with another man who also could be with another woman. Hence, assuming that the man who has sex with men and then women has HIV, or contracts HIV from his male partner, he will succeed in infecting the woman who then will infect the man and the infection could go on and on. In the same vein, a female sex worker may have lovers who are not her clients. Assuming she contracts HIV she can pass it on easily to her male lover who is not her client who may also pass it on to another woman. Bottom line is, issues affecting the key populations can hit and destabilize the gains already made lowering HIVE prevalence in the general population. Attention must therefore be given to the members of the key population groups if Ghana want to win and keep HIV infection at lower prevalence.
The program implemented by the Ghana Police Service realized that acceptance of key populations and their uniqueness is a major breakthrough to reforms. Meaningful engagement with them will be able to ensure consensus building, transparency and sustainability of programs.
Chief Inspector Thomas Ndeogo acknowledged the administration of the Ghana Police Service from the Inspector General and The Ghana AIDS Commission and thanked them for being committed to ensuring that the Police personnel get the requisite training needed to be more efficient in the discharge of their duties and for getting involved with the reforms.

***Content picked from Chief Inspector Ndeogo's presentation at the 21st International AIDS Conference 2016.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Parenting, As We Witnessed It, And As We Can Make It.

I don't know about you but there have been times that I have felt totally out of place on this earth and in my family. And this has happened quite a lot. In interacting with others, I have realized quite a number of my associates and friends and colleagues have had similar issues with their parents. Some are unable to hold any meaningful discussions with their parents no matter what. Some only have a hi hello good morning relationship. One common thing has been that most common felt they haven't ever been needed by their parents.

However, I think we need to cut our parents some slack. They, and especially African parents sub the Saharan have had to grow up in tribes and groupings and families that hardly connected emotionally with each other. There was always some sort of knowing you are part of a group, but that emotional attachment was never really nurtured. In this part, if a woman suffers from depression after delivery of a child, she will never be taken seriously. If a man gets his heart broken out of a relationship gone bad, he will likely be told he is a fool. If a woman gets her heart broken, she is weak. This has been our society and background. We as a people have had top to bottom communication and obey before complaint kind of lifestyle. Here, a child can never be right in a case of wrong doing involving an adult. The adult will always be right. Parents do not talk with their children. They talk to, and at the children. The feedback from a child never really mattered.

Our parents simply never appreciated the weight of emotional connections and the importance of engaging children. Child birth is not seen as something that needs emotional and psychological preparations. It is seen as a right of passage. At a certain age, you must have children and children you should and will have. You are told God will take care of the children. From this very statement, parents are separated from engagements with their children, generally. And so again, a child is viewed, not an a human who needs to be supported, but as a human who needs to be commanded.

Most of the parents of the younger generation went through this. We the younger generation are lucky to have been allowed to be a bit more expressive. By being expressive, we also started demanding what we thought and felt is ours. We have developed a sense of entitlement where we think we must have whatever we wish to have. And so when it comes to our parents and our emotional needs, we feel they should have simply provided it, damn their challenges.

Our parents have tried. We may not have loved them or even felt that love most part of our lives with them. We may be feeling that love now that we are grown and are able to appreciate certain things. We may still be angry and feel like they never wanted us. We feel this way because emotionally, we have felt rather empty. (Sometimes this emotional emptiness accounts for emotional abuse in romantic relationships. We have never really felt connected to another so as another person has made us realize that part of us, we become too afraid to let them go when they hurt us. Because we love the feeling of being wanted and feeling like you want, almost need someone too).

In all our pain and anger towards our parents, we sometimes fail to appreciate the other ways they have shown this same love and care and support. Feeling needed can be attained mostly via communication, via what is said to you. If it accompanies what is shown, beautiful! If it is shown but the words don't come, we end up being like that guy who loved the girl so much and did many things for her, but as he never opened his mouth to propose to her, he ended up serving drinks at her wedding. He lost her.

Our parents have showed us love and care. They have paid school fees, sheltered us, fed us, clothe us. ... no they hardly sat with us to do our homework. Or even got the importance of attending a PTA meeting at school. They was minimal to no celebrations to greet accolades from school. Maybe they didn't even understand the importance of these things to their children. Or maybe they did, but they could not express it. Mind you they came from a background where they weren't allowed to express themselves. Our parents have bent their backs for us to ensure our safety. Yet we feel angry because of the one thing we felt entitled to. . . Emotional support. We forget people cannot give what they do not have or have not known.

Let us go easy on our parents. They have tried. They have done an awesome job at raising us. Let us take note of the void we have identified and ensure our children will have it better. Let us ensure we will be there for our children, emotionally.

In giving a child what you wished to have as a child but did not have, you still need to be firm, and realize that the world will not always present our children with what they want. And so we must create balances and cut off excesses. We should be careful not to train children with the wrong sense of entitlement. Our children do not need luxury. They need love, the presence of the parents, the emotional connection. They need you, not your money or the gadgets as substitutes.
They need you to chat with them and to teach them sorry and please and thank you and no please and may I please get water and thank you for the water and mummy you are invited to my meal and daddy how was your day! They need you to teach them this and more. Money has never been known to be able to afford these.

Our children need humility. And love. And care. Our parents could not give us what they never really knew. We cannot give our children what we don't know too. However we can give ourselves the opportunity to learn what we do not know. To read. To ask questions. To chat with other people. To equip ourselves with experience, knowledge, and wisdom and most importantly, their applications. We need to make ourselves better so we can make parenting better for our children. We need to understand that our parents loved and still love us no matter what.

When we gracefully get old and grey, our memories, I guess, will not be filled with the adrenalin of work and the stress it came with. It will mostly be filled, I guess again, with events and moments that included other people. Moments that explored bonds and emotions. The smiles we gave people. The hugs, the encouraging words. The support. The nice things we said.

Let us appreciate our parents, possibly understudy them and fish out their flaws, so we can improve on ourselves. We owe this to the next generation.