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Just as bees are attracted to roses and lilies, people from all walks of life are attracted to the Kroboland because of its manufacture of traditional beads, ornaments and jewellery such as bracelets and necklaces.
The beauty of their women has been well-touted over the years.
But Kroboland has a worrying story. There is concern about the increasing rate of HIV infections and HIV-related deaths in this community.
“Weekly, you could get one or two deaths from HIV. Because from our monthly mortality monitoring, there is not a single month that you don’t get about three or four cases dying from HIV,” a health worker told Hotline.
Why the situation is so remains a puzzle residents in this area are struggling to solve. It is indeed an embarrassing tag the old and young, males and females from Manya Krobo and its surrounding villages are trying hard to erase.
“It’s natural for Manya to be cited as an example when HIV is being talked about. There is this prominent person who didn’t want to hear about HIV. He thought somebody somewhere didn’t like the district and was churning out false figures about the district so it is all about image and ego”
Manya Krobo in the Eastern Region of Ghana is about an hour’s drive from the nation’s capital Accra.
The area is not also far from two major tourist sites in the country...the Akosombo dam and the Kpong air field. The two sites attract thousands of tourists each year.
Huge billboards telling residents and visitors who come to this area about the consequences of HIV/AIDS have been mounted in strategic places. One billboard is at the junction of the district hospital. This has the picture of a couple holding each other. It carries the inscription “Avoiding AIDS as easy as Abstain, Be faithful, Condomise, and lastly, Do not share unsterilized needles, syringes and razor blades”. At the Akroo Senior High Technical School here at Manya Krobo, there is a similar billboard. Physical Education instructor here at the school, Gordon Boakye Akomea said the billboard has been at the school for years and it’s for strategic reasons.
“Initially there was a program on education of HIV in the school so this board was mounted for years now. And it says don’t rush into pre-marital sex and you risk getting infected with HIV/AIDS...what do you tell them about that? If you are not married to the person, you stay away from indulging in any sexual activity so if they stay off...for now they don’t even know who their future partners are going to be so if they don’t indulge in by staying off, and concentrating on their education, with time they can have whatever they want to have and by then if they want to marry, they will know their status and the status of the person they will marry,” he said.
The first case of HIV was reported in Ghana in 1986 and since then, it is estimated that over 200 thousand Ghanaians have died from the disease. Figures available indicate that over 300 thousand Ghanaians currently remain infected. Since the discovery of HIV 26 years ago, the Eastern Region has topped the HIV prevalence chart until last year when the Central took the lead... that’s according to the 2011 HIV sentinel survey report released March this year.
Through the many interventions put in place by the Ghana AIDS Commission and the National AIDS Control Program, the national prevalence rate has stabilized. It has remained at 1.5 percent for 2010 and 2011.
Program Manager for the National AIDS Control Program, Dr. Nii Akwei Addo, says this means a lot.
“It means the entry and exit is the same. People who are coming new; people who are leaving because they are dying; people who are stable because they are on treatment is balanced out. Again, new infections are coming down and they will continue to go down between now and 2015. The only premise is that the things that we have as a country in our national strategic plan to do, we continue to do that,” he said.
But whether stabilization has been achieved or not in the country, this explanation means nothing for the over one thousand children in this part of the country. It has come rather too late. The disease wrecked their lives when it claimed both their parents and left them as orphans, and in some cases shattered their dreams. Most of them through no fault of theirs, now live with the HIV/AIDS virus.
Manya Makutsu is a 54-year-old woman and is one of 371 queens from Manya Krobo who are voluntarily taking care of HIV/AIDS orphans and vulnerable children in this area. Manya is taking care of six adopted children together with her own four biological children. One of the children under her care has the infection...she was born with it.
“The girl was brought to the family when we didn’t know the father. A sister went to Abidjan so she was coming, she brought the pregnancy. We didn’t have any knowledge about the disease but we used to hear people say ADIS, AIDS...When the baby was born, day one, the mother was seriously sick. Were you shocked when the doctor confirmed to you the baby had the disease? No, since we had the knowledge about the disease, we are not scared. Formerly we were afraid to even hear. Is she very fit? Yes, she is fit and takes her drugs and she is now in JHS ONE. Does she know she has the disease? Yes, she knows. We told her that killed her mother and she also has so she has to be taking her medicine according to as we have told her and she is doing that,” she said.
Caring for a three-week old baby with the HIV/AIDS virus for eleven years is not an easy task. It takes a person with a strong heart and the fear of God to do that. Manya Makutsu is not wealthy but she has a strong desire to take care of these orphans.
Whether she has money or not, she manages to provide the children with three square meals a day.
The queens have come together to form the Manya Krobo Queen Mothers Association, the tears of these orphans and the vulnerable are gradually being wiped away.
The President of the Manya Krobo Queen mothers’ Association, Manya Nartekie, is the main energy behind the association. She has two biological children but has voluntarily taken care of five children...some as young as four.
“Queen mothers in Manye Krobo are saying that every child is our child and therefore we have to fight vulnerability out of children, help them and take them out of stigma and discrimination and that is why we are into all this. In all the strength is from God the almighty because it is a big task and what we are doing, nobody is assisting us so much,” she said.
Manye Nartekie is a very busy and selfless woman. Every second of her time is channeled into thinking and strategizing on how to make life comfortable for the over one thousand children in the area whose parents died of AIDS. She said the queens were motivated to do this because too many children were becoming vulnerable.
“We realized that because of diseases in Kroboland, it has brought a lot of vulnerability as well and queen mothers are trying to avoid all these. That is why we say children under our care shouldn’t only be on feeding alone but should have a training that will transform them and take them out of vulnerability so that one day Kroboland children will have their bright future,” she indicated.
And the spread of HIV and AIDs in this area appears to have a long history. It is believed people from the area who once travelled to Ivory Coast and Nigeria must have come back to spread the disease.
“When you grow up to 18-21 they make the dipo for you then to go to marriage. When they fall into marriage and when the marriage is not going well, then they will say I am going to find something to care for my children so they travel to Nigeria, Abidjan...they then return with the disease and die. We didn’t have any knowledge about the disease too so it spread. When they come they will say am suffering from fever. They return with plenty things for the guys here so they go to their homes to collect them and they get them to sleep with so it spread,” one resident told Hotline.
Perhaps this is the layman’s view of why the disease kept spreading like a wild fire. For more scientific explanation, I travel to the Atua District hospital for more answers. It is a referral center so hundreds of patients with all forms of ailments.
Coincidentally, the treatment of HIV in the country, started from this hospital. Medical superintendent in-charge of the hospital Dr. Alexander Osei-Bonsu he admits the incidence is high in this area, but he gives a different explanation.
“The reason why they chose this place for that much well, I cannot tell. Probably, initially they found out that the incidence was high in this area and a number of people were dying from the cases within this area. And since the program was started from here it also attracted quite a number of people with the disease to this area from satellites villages and even some districts that had not started the program at that time most of them were coming for treatment here. So it’s like it makes this place somewhat a center and more or less portraying the area as a highly infected area...we still see a number of new cases. New cases still come,” he said.
A quick dash to a community called Abokobi in the Somanya area confirms exactly what the doctor told me about.
A young man took me round a near collapsed building which is totally empty. All the inhabitants of this house died from AIDS.
This may sound alarming but that is really the case in the Kroboland. This means that a lot of pressure on queen to a adopt more children in addition to their biological children. Manye Nartekie says sometimes frustration sets in, in their quest to cater for these children.
She believes the children must be given the needed care. |
Each queen caters for between one and six children. So with five people depending on 30 cedis for two months, Manya Nartekie may be right suggesting that the money is woefully inadequate hence a call on well wishers to come to their aid.
“We were having a benz bus that was donated to us but because of the program...working in lower, working in upper...this vehicle has broken down and it is now in one of the Atua mechanical shops. We are trying to put it back on the road but its not easy because we don’t have funds. What we are doing is voluntary. It is ones a while that somebody will come and give you a little,” she said.
At least if this bus becomes road worthy, it could work and fetch income to support this selfless queen.
Showing love and care for HIV victims prolongs their lives. They live even longer when they eat good food and take their anti-retroviral drugs. There is hope indeed for these innocent children.
Notwithstanding the various interventions to save the lives of people living with the disease, it is estimated that over ten thousand people will die from AIDS this year. This may happen if people living with the disease do not seek medical attention quickly enough.
Again, there is widespread knowledge of HIV and modes of transmission in Ghana; however, stigma and discrimination are common. Such hostility often leads people living with the disease to hide their status hence reducing their chances of obtaining proper treatment.
All of us can help reduce the spread of the disease if we do away with stigmatization and discrimination as well dispelling the perception that a positive HIV test is equivalent to a death sentence. Just show a little love and compassion for you don’t know what tomorrow holds.