Monday, 21 May 2018

New HIV infections in Ghana

It is worrying that after Ghana made strides in reducing HIV and AIDS, the trend has suddenly changed and new infections are being recorded especially among young people. The question is what went wrong? Is it because there was complacency on the part of the Ghana AIDS Commission, the body mandated to handle coordination, policy formulation, resource mobilization and management of HIV and AIDS response that people were okay with the messages and would stick to them and change their behavior? Or there was not enough funding for continuous sensitization. Indeed it is really not good to forget at any point in time in one’s life to keep healthy and be out of danger. HIV is not contracted in a vacuum but through an activity. These are unprotected sex, blood to blood contact and exposure to HIV before, during birth or through breastfeeding.

It is on record that every minute 10 people become infected with HIV globally. UNAIDS report 2016 estimates that more than 36 million people are living with HIV globally. Ghana’s share of it is 290 thousand with 15 thousand deaths. New infections are being recorded at an alarming rate. The Ghana AIDS Commission says between 2010 and 2016 new infections rose to 70 percent which is unacceptable. Many people in Ghana are said to be living with HIV without knowing and they keep infecting others. This is very dangerous for the country. It is important to allay every fear and go for the Voluntary Counseling and Testing.

It is better to know your status, get treatment if positive or take care of yourself if negative.
HIV is no longer a deadly disease unlike previously where there was no treatment.
People living with HIV are now living healthy lives because of availability of treatment and some are even Ambassadors of the disease, sensitizing others. The Test and Treat Policy is still rolling and as soon as one is diagnosed with HIV, treatment begins unlike previously. In 2014 the global 90 – 90 – 90 targets were set to fast track the response to HIV. The target aims to end the disease by 2030. However, Ghana is bracing up to achieve the 90-90-90 target by 2020. Which means 90 percent of all people living in Ghana will know their HIV status, 90 percent of all people diagnosed with HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral treatment and 90 percent of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression. But 2020 is only two years away, so how feasible or realistic is this target. The onus lies on each and every citizen to get involved in the fight against HIV by first getting tested to know their status and receive treatment if positive, avoid unprotected sex by using condoms if one keeps multiple sex partners. Unfortunately some people get the disease through no fault of theirs, through the use of shared sharp instruments. It is sad that many people these days patronise the services of the free range pedicure and manicure boys who operate in the markets with unsterilized instrument. The added phenomenon is those who practice homosexuality and lesbianism, with opportunistic infections and increasing health hazards. The 4th National HIV and AIDS Research Conference 2018 ended a few days ago. Best practices were shared, new strategies have also been developed and a brighter future is expected to rid countries of HIV. It is important for each and every citizen of this nation to live responsibly sexually and be each other’s keeper.

People living with HIV are now living longer, thanks to treatment but the issues of stigma and discrimination still exist. Discrimination is an offence under the Ghana AIDS Commission Act 2016 (ACT 938). Under this Act, people living with HIV have the right to work and enjoy the fundamental human rights and freedoms as enshrined in the 1992 Constitution. Remember there is no cure for HIV though there is treatment, so be wise, and prevent HIV rather than being on the pill throughout your life.


Passport Acquisition In Ghana

Passport is the universally recognized document needed by all wishing to travel to and from nations especially using the sea and airports. The acquisition of this document in Ghana since independence has been cumbersome. Unfortunately succeeding governments were unable to deal with the challenges adequately. The reason for this is well known. Despite the rapid increase in Ghana’s population from six million at independence to 29 million today, we have only one passport processing office in Accra to serve all the huge number of passport applicants daily. No wonder, all those who want to acquire the document from all corners of the country from north, south, east and west had to travel to Accra. A visit to the National Passport Offices in Accra reveals long queues of people young and old, women, children and the physically challenged attempting to acquire passports. The intervention of past and present governments to make passport acquisition easy through online application and processing is a step in the right direction. However, since the final processing would have to be effected in Accra and many applicants are unable to use the online portal, the problem is far from over as the passport office is forced to use manual form side by side the electronic processing system. It is heartwarming that the current government has begun moves to find solution to the problem of passport acquisition. The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Shirley Ayorkor Botchway recently made an unannounced visit to the Passport Office in Accra to see things for herself. She seemed unhappy with what she saw especially when she spoke to disgruntled passport applicants who have been waiting for months for their passports.

There is therefore the need for some reforms to make the system effective. Government needs to properly decentralise the processing of passport by establishing new regional and district passport offices. It is refreshing to hear the Foreign Minister announcing plans to ensure that Passports once issued are made to expire in 10 years instead of 5 years, adding that the 500 passport booklets which is produced daily will be increased to take care of the volume of applications before the passport office. Out of the thousands of people who form queues from 3am only about 100 are served a day. It is hoped this will be addressed if measures are put in place. Much as the moves by the Minister are commendable, her Ministry has to consider employing more people to work around the clock in Accra and the regions to deliver quality and timely service to Ghanaians. It is equally essential for Internet services to be enhanced across the country to facilitate the online application process. The so called ‘goro boys’ or ‘passport contractors’ running around extorting money from prospective passport applicants with the connivance of some officials must be flushed out. The issue of foreigners claiming to be Ghanaians applying daily for Ghanaian passports illegally must be seriously addressed.

The brief visit of the Foreign Minister to the office has proved that the bottlenecks associated with the passport acquisition can be dealt with. Most passport applicants who witnessed the magical intervention of the Minister got to know that passports could be issued with dispatch within hours and few days especially with the help of monitoring teams. Ironically it was discovered that 60,000 completed passports have been abandoned in the passport office by some applicants. It is not surprising that those unclaimed passports might have been abandoned because the applicants were fed up of waiting for months only to apply for another passport in the same passport office. While commending the Minister of Foreign Affairs for the good moves, her Ministry must intensify monitoring and evaluation mechanism and trigger corrective measures and reforms to enhance the processing of the document. This is the only way the ministry can deal with the problems and speed-up passport acquisition in the country. Ghanaians deserve better service from the Passport office and the needed measures must be implemented to ensure timely issuance of passports.


Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Separation, Recycling And Proper Disposal Of Waste

Despite persistent calls from environmentalists and other interest groups, Government is unable to ban the use of plastics in Ghana due to the absence of a policy. However, according to the Minister for Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation Professor Frimpong Boateng there are consultations to develop such a policy. Plastic waste contributes the bulk of filth engulfing the nation. Ghana has a history of half a century of plastic manufacturing, with companies currently producing over 30,000 metric tons of plastic products, complemented by thousands of plastic products imported into the country. Against the prediction that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish, the United Nations has dedicated its Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 14) Ocean Conference to fighting the plastics menace. It is a known fact that nations that have banned the use and production of plastics or have imposed taxes on companies producing or using plastics have seen significant drops in its use. If Ghana, like developed countries, could recycle even half of its plastic waste, millions of gallons of oil and cubic meters of landfill space could be saved annually. Indeed, a feasibility study on plastic waste conducted by the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) estimated that 1.2 million Ghana Cedis could be realised monthly if plastic waste generated in Ghana could be recycled.

Government alone cannot effectively fight the engulfing battle of plastic waste management. Success will require concerted and organized stakeholders’ efforts and responsibility beginning with individuals, families, institutions of every type and level as well as law enforcement agencies. An article is focused on the pioneering efforts of the Legon Interdenominational Church which since 2014 is showing the way in efforts to deal with the plastic waste menace through sensitization of its congregation and strategic partnerships. An educationist and Social Marketing expert is guiding the process which is driven by a number of Champions. Social Action Ministry (SAM) in 2014 initiated the Plastic Waste Project with the primary objective to promote the culture of waste separation and proper waste disposal in the congregation and by extension the wider public. The Ministry's ultimate goal in implementing this project is to contribute to national efforts to keep Ghana clean. Prior to the official launch of the project, the Leadership of the Ministry spent months clarifying the project concept and planning and negotiating with the Council of Elders which permitted the Ministry to make structured presentations to the congregation to sensitise them on the dangers and social cost of indiscriminate waste disposal. On the first Sunday of every month, they bring and deposit their plastic waste at the designated collection point with the strict supervision of SAM’s Leadership. Charity, we know, begins at home so schools, churches, markets, social groups, children and youth in particular should embrace the culture of waste separation and proper disposal through the example of the Social Action Ministry plastic waste project.

Indeed, in recent times, a number of faith-based leaders have openly declared strong support for Government’s efforts to keep Ghana clean and to protect the environment. A concerted and collaborative effort will certainly drive the national vision to achieve results. Sanctions will have an important role to play for the desired results to be achieved and within reasonable timeliness. Sensitization should cut across all levels beginning with the individual, households, communities, social groups as well as municipal and district assemblies. Mass and social media communication strategies are cost effective if complemented by targeted grassroots training and equipping of community and group based motivators and champions. Let us, therefore, join hands to make the plastic menace a thing of the past.


Introduction of mobile money transfer interoperability system

The advancement and use of technology in the modern world has helped to address the numerous challenges and rising demands facing mankind in society. Technology has solved many problems and made life easy on a number of issues in various sectors across globe, leading to high productivity, rapid economic growth and development. The use of automated teller machines by banks, for example, has facilitated and speeded up the rendering of improved customer service in respect of withdrawals and deposits in the banking halls. It is in the same vein that the mobile money interoperability launched by the Vice President last week is seen as an appropriate technology-oriented move to see to the transfer of money across networks of telecoms, banking institutions and business entities to promote business and economic growth.

The economy of Ghana is made up of formal and informal sectors. While cash flow in the formal sector is made available to and controlled by banks, this is not the case with the informal sector, especially with small business entities and individuals. Substantial amount of cash in circulation are found outside the banking sector, a situation which denies the banks access to more cash flow to enhance transactions in the economy. The success of mobile money interoperability will, therefore, encourage cash flow in the form of deposits and withdrawals among the telecom networks, the banks and individual business organisations throughout the country as far as Phase One of the project is concerned.

Under Phase Two of the project which will come into operation soon, cash flow for business transactions will go across borders or become international at least within the West African sub-region and also with other parts of the world. Thus, Mobile Money Payment Interoperability will enhance and boost business operations within and outside the country. The end result of all this is that it will place business operators in Ghana above their counterparts in nearby and other countries that do not operate this payment system. In addition, the system will help reduce the cost of business transactions in terms of cash deposits and withdrawals.

This also means that, as was pointed out by the Vice President, Dr Mahamadu Bawumia at the launch of the technology, it will make Ghana one of the global leaders in the interoperability payment scale. It is also important to note that e-Zwich integration into the interoperability payment space is ongoing. Already, the bank of Ghana has instructed all banks in the country to complete the integration process to allow customers to transfer money from bank accounts to their mobile money accounts by the middle of July 2018. This shows that the interoperability payment space is real and has become part of the economy of Ghana to promote business transactions in and out of the country.

If for nothing at all, it will help to overcome high costs associated with traditional banking and also make it easy for mobile money customers in the country to go about their businesses. Above all, it will help to enhance business operations in both the public and private sectors by injecting greater efficiency and also save time in transacting business across the economy. The world of business today thrives on a speedy delivery system, efficiency and customer satisfaction and this is what the Mobile Money Payment Interoperability seeks to achieve. It is our prayer that the system works to the satisfaction of all and to help stimulate socio-economic development.


Craze By Ghanaians For Foreign Movies; Its Impact On Movie Industry

Without a doubt Ghana's movie industry has come a long way and has improved tremendously. As far back as the days of Osofo Dadzie, Keteke, Obra, Adabraka Drama troupe to Kwaw Ansah's movies such as Harvest at 17 and Concert Party one can easily say that the movie industry has made progress although there is more room for improvement. Nevertheless, the craze by Ghanaians for foreign movies and soap operas especially those from Mexico and India is fast eroding the gains made in the industry. It is common to see people especially women passionately watching these movies. Even at work, some workers watch these movies damning the consequences. Others may leave the office and go home early just to watch these telenovelas. It is unfortunate that TV stations that are supposed to promote made in Ghana movies for Ghanaians to be interested in, are rather telecasting these telenovelas. They have also doubled the nuances in these foreign movies, by translating them into the Akan language for easy understanding. This is killing the local movie industry.

The craze for these movies has eaten so deep that it is affecting the studies of students. Students are most of the time seen discussing these movies instead of devoting their time to their books. This is because the TV stations discuss these movies and offer prizes to their viewers while failing to do same for the local movies. Recently one of the TV stations invited the cast of one of the telenovelas from India for Ghanaians to pay and see them. This is how far some TV stations have helped to collapse the country's movie industry. Although these TV stations telecast some local movies, the time and attention given to the telenovelas are not comparable to the local ones. Previously, it was the Nigerian movies that flooded the country's markets, but after a while, the two countries started sharing experiences through collaborations.

While blaming the TV stations for doing a disservice to the local movie industry, it important to encourage players in the local industry to up their game to enable them to compete favourably with their foreign counterparts. It is common knowledge that the movie industry is used for entertainment and education on a wide range of issues such as health, education, politics and personal hygiene. This therefore makes the industry vital and needs to be supported to stay alive. It is sad that as the country faces stiff competition in the movie industry, some of the players continue to release movies that are sub-standard thereby giving the foreign movies a leeway. If producers fail to give Ghanaians what they want, they will continue to watch the foreign movies. The National Film and Television Institute, NAFTI and other training schools should be supported by government to enable them churn out qualified personnel for the industry. If reports that government has started a programme to support the movie industry to enable them to improve standards are anything to go by, then there will be light at the end of the tunnel. It is the hope of all Ghanaians that the movie industry will grow rapidly to compete favourably with their foreign counterparts. The TV stations should promote the local movie industry by giving them more airtime while stakeholders in the industry organise programmes to enhance standards.


2018 World Press Freedom Day Celebrations

All is well that ends well. Colin Powell once said "there are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failures. “This is exactly what Ghana has experienced in hosting the 25th edition of World Press Freedom Day attended by about 700 Journalists, media practitioners, editors and media owners all over the world. That three day event was declared by UNESCO, the organisers as very successful. This is no exaggeration. It provided the platform to inform the global community of fundamental issues of press freedom and highlighted critical matters such as threats and violence against Journalist. The forum also reminded governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom and professional ethics. There is no gain saying the fact that Journalists the world over are often exposed to violence, threats and self-censorships. These include psychological violence, humiliation, intimidation, limitation, slandering and smear campaigns. It is therefore least surprising that in a 71 point resolution dubbed the Accra Declaration, participants denounced attacks on freedom of expression and media freedom in whatever form they take and whoever perpetrates them, be it public authorities, political actors and internet intermediaries. According to numbers released by Reporters without Borders a Paris-based media freedom group, 65 Journalists were killed on the job globally in 2017. Thirty-five of these were killed in countries where there is armed conflict to bombing or shell attacks while 39 were targeted for being journalists reporting on corruption or organised crime. We pay tribute to jailed Egyptian Photographer Shawkan who was honoured at the 2018 World Press Freedom Day awards dinner though he is still behind bars, arrested in the line of duty.

It is instructive to note calls by the participants on media outlets for the provision of safety equipment and training to staff who are at risk of attacks for the information they disseminate including specialised training for women. It is against the background that we laud the prompt response of the Association of Women in the Media, Ghana against the attack on a lady journalist in the line of duty by one Hajia Fati. Such irresponsible acts must not be tolerated in any way. We further commend the call by participants on Journalists to take seriously their own responsibilities to respect human rights including privacy and freedom of expression especially in so far as they play a role in mediating the expressive activities of their users or potentially exposing private information. We definitely need to refabricate the protection of Journalistic endeavour through the laws of copyrights as one of the resolutions pointed out. This will help strengthen the profession at a crucial time when in increasing its role in accountability and tackling corruption.

One other point by participants that cannot be glossed over is the call on UNESCO to among others share good practices on the media's role in elections by supporting the work of the Inter-Agency Coordination mechanism for UN Electoral Assistance. It must support further training of judges, judicial officers, administration of justice actors and security forces on freedom of expression. If the 2018 World Press Freedom Day will go down in history as one of most well organised activities on the calendar of UNESCO then tons of commendation should go to the Ministry of Information, the Ghana Journalists Association and all collaborators for the splendid organisational skills exhibited. We pray for the immediate release of all Journalists and media actors currently languishing in jail and pray for the peaceful repose of the soul of all media personnel killed in the line of duty.

We say Ayekoo to all participants and delegates to the 2018 World Press Freedom Day for their comportment and diligence but for which the celebrations would not have been that successful. We are proud of you.


Thursday, 10 May 2018

The Nation Builders Corps Policy

One great challenge facing the world today is unemployment, particularly among the youth. According to the United Nations, most comprehensive global campaign, Decent Jobs for Youth Initiative, Africa’s unemployment statistics for the youth stands at about 12 million. In Europe and Central Asia also, about eight million youth are also unemployed. In Ghana, not less than one hundred thousand graduates come out of tertiary institutions every year for jobs, a crucial challenge that faces us as a nation. If unemployment, as a threat to national security, has been with us for years then we need to sit up as a people and be positively committed to addressing the issue, seeing that it has worsened in the recent past.

Communal violence, needless social tension and insecurity, dishonest lifestyles and armed robbery, among others, are all symptoms of the dreadful challenge of unemployment. The country needs to put itself in a strategic position for short and long-term approaches aimed at addressing the challenge of unemployment. This problem can be overcome if appropriate steps are adopted now to confront the issue. The recent launch in Kumasi of the Nation Builders Corps programme by President Akufo-Addo is meant to provide temporary employment for graduates who come out of tertiary institutions. The programme will serve as a breather for a three-year period to prepare beneficiaries with more practical skills, relevant competence and the necessary copious experience needed for permanent engagement in the world of work. Without thinking outside the box, we will not be able to deal with the issues relating to unemployment.

The launch of the National Builders Corps is an innovative approach that will prepare our unemployed graduates for better opportunities ahead. The numerous economic programmes being undertaken by government to transform the country towards rapid socio-economic development are not result-bound today but in the near future. Indeed, all meaningful economic transformation programmes bring in results in the long-term. This shows that we need a stop-gap measure like the nation builders corps to prepare young graduates for their future world of work. The country’s total economic transformational agenda calls for pragmatic policies and programmes carried out in a well-focused and consistent manner for the attainment of national development objectives. This explains why consistency in the implementation of national economic programmes should be seen as a preferred alternative to mere confrontation and criticism aimed at distorting what the true facts are. The time has come for every citizen to contribute his or her portion to the country’s development in the form of patriotic support, but not destructive criticisms and needless unwarranted attacks, likely to turn the clock of progress backward rather than moving it forward.

In Ghana’s democratic dispensation which has become the envy of many countries, criticisms are welcome but this must be carried out in a helpful and constructive manner. The Nation Builders Corps is an employment programme that has come to save a certain situation at this point in our national life while working towards a smooth, rapid long-term growth of the economy, to ensure expansion in business opportunities and bring about improvement in the general economic welfare of all Ghanaians. It is a programme that needs the support of everyone to make it workable for our unemployed graduates.

By Dr. Kofi Amponsah-Bediako, Director of Corporate Communications, Ghana Standards Authority .