In June 2011 WACC and the Christian Council of Ghana (CCG) completed a three-year project partnership on reducing HIV/AIDS-related stigma and discrimination in Ghana. Its aim was to involve religious and other local community leaders in three districts around Greater Accra in a rights-based campaign to reduce stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV and AIDS.
The project demonstrated the effectiveness of promoting and supporting local leadership and networking, developing education and campaign materials in local languages appropriate to the context, and including and empowering people living with HIV. The stories and testimonies of those involved demonstrate that reducing HIV-related stigma allows space for people living with HIV to identify and advocate for changing practices and life-transforming changes.
The project succeeded in changing attitudes and behaviours in the districts, where people living with HIV or AIDS indicate that they are treated much more fairly and experience much more acceptance. Homosexual persons living with HIV or AIDS in the district where the WACC-CCG project took place drew attention to stigmatisation that prevented them from accessing treatment.
Supernatural beliefs about the origin of HIV and AIDS, for example, have led many in Ghana to seek cures from spiritual leaders, often leading them to neglect taking their anti-retroviral treatment (ART) regimens and making them vulnerable to gross exploitation because of their desperation to have their health restored. Spiritual leaders known as prophets and prophetesses operate "prayer camps" in which persons seeking help move into, sometimes temporarily but often times permanently. Their unpaid labour and any worldly wealth is given freely to the leaders in exchange for prayer. Many in their last stage of AIDS are chained and beaten to exorcise them of "demons".
The WACC-CCG project reached out to 42 such prayer camps in Manya Krobo to increase understanding of HIV and AIDS, the rights of people living with HIV, stigma and discrimination. One success story is Nyame Sumbo prayer camp whose leaders Prophet Isaac Mangotey and Prophetess Lydia Amui agreed to participate in the capacity building workshop for religious leaders. Afterwards they became part of the advocacy campaign leaders, educating residents of their camp and encouraging them to visit the St Martins Clinic for treatment.
Prayer camps are common across Ghana and are sustained by several factors, among them belief in traditional cures for diseases that are incurable with western medicine. Prayer camp leaders are treated as demi-gods who, with intense prayer and herbs, can cure all conditions, including HIV/AIDS. This in spite of national efforts to convey the facts about the virus. By reaching out to prayer camps, the project is perhaps one of very few that have consciously made an effort to work in partnership with the prophets and prophetesses who are surprisingly willing to be part of the solution.