Earth & Conservation

One Woman's Triumph Over HIV in Ghana (360 Video)

HIV disproportionately affects women in Ghana, but through funding of prevention and treatment methods, this is changing.

In Ghana, AIDS-related illness is the number one cause of death for women ages 15 - 44 years old. Women here are more susceptible to HIV infection, largely because of their socioeconomic disadvantage.

Ghanaian society favors the education of men, so many women are often left financially dependent on male partners. Men are in control in sexual relationships as well, and often choose not to use protection during sex. Condoms are typically associated with prostitution in Ghana, and the fertility of women is very important in Ghanaian culture.

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Sadly, this means that when women do contract HIV, they are often shunned by society and considered worthless by men. Doris Yarnie was one of these women.

Doris discovered she was HIV positive in 1999. At the time, she was also pregnant. "The stigma and discrimination in Ghana [is] strong here. I told the man [my boyfriend] that I'm HIV positive. We born a boy. Later on, the man run away and leave me and the child," she told Seeker.

The other devastating part of this story is that, without treatment, HIV-positive women can pass the infection to their children in utero. Doris's son was born HIV-positive and because she couldn't afford the medication he needed, he died just a few months after he was born.

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For several years, Doris's health continued to deteriorate, but finally, in 2003 she got the help she needed. Thanks to a program at Korle Bu Teaching hospital, she was able to receive anti-retroviral treatment (ARVs), along with many other HIV patients. The program is funded by The Global Fund, a partnership between world governments and the private sector to combat HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. However, The Global Fund is not alone in this fight.

Advocacy organizations like the ONE Campaign work to ensure governments continue to replenish the Global Fund. Meanwhile, ONE's sister organization (RED) mobilizes the world's most recognizable brands to donate money to the Global Fund.

Together, organizations like ONE and (RED) empower The Global Fund's work in funding programs like the one at Korle Bu.

Just last year, the Global Fund signed new grants for the government to receive $248 million in funding to increase the prevention and treatment of HIV, tuberculosis and malaria in the country. An additional 56,736 people are now able to receive treatment for HIV with this funding.

As a result of Ghana's partnership with the Global Fund, there has been a 43 percent decrease of new HIV infections since 2010.

Thanks to her anti-retroviral medication, Doris has now been healthy for 17 years. "I started taking my medication. I have HIV 17 good years now. I am living well, taking my medicine well, eating well. I'm healthy," she told Seeker.

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Doris is also married now and has two healthy, HIV-negative sons. With the help of the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, she received ARV throughout her pregnancies and it prevented her from transmitting the infection to her boys.

Because she knows first-hand the devastation of bearing a child with HIV, Doris helps other women prevent HIV transmission to their babies during pregnancy. She's been volunteering at Korle Bu for 12 years now, in a program that gives HIV-positive mothers-to-be ARV, as well as medical counseling throughout their pregnancy. They also provide treatment to babies if they are infected with HIV when they're born.

Doris wants to spread awareness that if you're infected with HIV, you have options. "I want to tell, if you have HIV there's hope," she said. "It's not that if you get HIV you will die today or tomorrow. I think you take example of me, Doris. Take that example because I am well, I am healthy."

-- Molly Fosco