12:00pm

Mon June 20, 2011
Africa

How Ghana Has More Than Halved Its HIV/AIDS Rate

John Dramani Mahama, vice president of the Republic of Ghana, recently visited the U.S. for a high-level meeting at the United Nations on HIV/AIDS.

As Tell Me More caught up with him, he explained that Ghana is one of the countries that have made significant progress in the fight against HIV/AIDs. "Since we launched our first national strategy plan and set up the Ghana AIDS commission, we have brought the prevalence rate down from nearly 4 percent to the current level of 1.5 percent," he said.

Mahama says the nation is trying to achieve a zero mother-to-child transmission rate and to combat the stigma associated with those having HIV/AIDS. To better educate locals about the disease, he says, the government is collaborating with community-based organizations. "People were afraid to eat from the same plate with an HIV-positive person or sharing things. Now that they know it's not a death sentence, even when you're HIV-positive, I think people are coming around."

Furthermore, Mahama says, many people do not know about the rapid changes occurring in Africa and that the West has a negative perception of the country. He points out that countries in Africa have gone to international conferences, drafted new constitutions and held elections. "And so we've come a long way from the early '90s until now," he says, "Civil society organizations are more expressive, we have more media freedom, military dictatorships are extinct."

Mahama also has a personal interest in green jobs and the environment. He has spoken out about plastic pollution and his hopes that Africans will no longer have to use as many plastic bags — and that if they do use them, they will dispose of them properly. To help this effort, the country has imposed a tax on plastics, he says.

When talking about his forthcoming memoir, Mahama mentions the 1970s and '80s, explaining that that was when many Africans left the continent owing to harassment or because they were fed up with their current living conditions. "There was a death of knowledge and writing, and that was the period when I was forming my consciousness, and I think that period needs to be documented," he says. Mahama adds that he builds stories around episodes from his personal life and hopes that by doing so, he can show that even though those are "the lost decades," other positive things happened.

Today, however, Mahama says, "We have a new growing oil industry, and incidentally, we have a lot of Ghanaians working with oil companies, and they are coming back." He says that the "brain drain" has become a "brain gain."

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.