Defying popular belief in Ghana that AIDS is caused by witchcraft, large-scale intervention programs for improving health standards have convinced people to trust medical explanations of the disease.ver thirty per cent of Ghana's inhabitants believe supernatural forces could be responsible for the spread of HIV/AIDS.

"The spread of AIDS is usually larger in less well-off areas. With lower income, little education and a higher share of illiteracy, Ghana's Northern regions are traditionally poorer that the Southern ones. Still, people in the Upper East Region seem to have a better grasp of the actual infection mechanism behind this terrible epidemic," said professor and sociologist Knud Knudsen at the University of Stavanger.

 

The researchers examined data from the Ghana Demographic and Health Survey from 2003, involving 10,000 respondents of both sexes between the ages of 15-49.

The survey provides a unique starting point for trying to understand Ghanians' attitudes and practices in relation to AIDS, explained Knudsen.

In addition to fertility and family planning in Ghana, the survey charted people's awareness and conduct towards AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Respondents were asked questions about alternative transmittance models, thereby enabling the researchers to compare their perceptions with modern medical knowledge.

Knudsen thinks the belief in witchcraft as a cause of AIDS, is an underestimated factor when developing relevant health programmes.

Implementing standard programmes is difficult if people do not understand how the disease is transmitted.

People living in the poorer Northern regions have benefited from previous medical initiatives, which might explain their readiness to trust medical expertise.

Long-term health programmes were implemented in the Upper East Region, years before the area was affected by the AIDS epidemic.

In 1987, a well-known project for monitoring the effects of vitamin A distribution was initiated in the Kassena-Nankana district.

And the programme significantly improved health conditions among children suffering from diarrhoea, bronchial diseases and measles.

In addition, the strain on health services was eased. Initiatives supporting nurses in health care services contributed to a 60 per cent reduction in child mortality rates, compared with similar regions.

"Support among local chiefs and village elders is crucial when launching new initiatives When people have experienced that the science-based medical model works, they tend to accept it," said Knudsen.

The study will be published in the international journal Global Health Promotion

 

Source: ANI, 23rd of March, 2010