HIV and AIDS and other STIs pose a serious public health problem in The Gambia. Studies have shown that a significant proportion of morbidity and mortality among sexually active people are directly or indirectly due to STIs.
At the opening ceremony, the Executive Director of ActionAid Mr Omar Badji reflected on the significant progress that had been made in the global HIV and AIDS response in the past 35 years, particularly on the treatment and prevention of Mother-To-Child Transmission, information dissemination and reduction of stigma and discrimination. However, Badji warned that HIV and AIDS is far from over and that we cannot afford to lose the fight. “Clearly developed messages that are well understood and accepted can play an important role in ensuring that the prevalence of HIV & AIDS is brought to zero”, he said. Badji also highlighted the need to align the messages to be developed to the national policies in order to respond appropriately to the communication challenges we currently face as a nation. ”Pre-testing the messages will ensure recognition of people’s traditions and enhance their proper interpretation and understanding of the messages being developed”, he concluded.
The Deputy Director of the National AIDS Secretariat Alpha Khan highlighted the significance of the workshop, noting that the IEC/BCC messages will enhance the understanding of HIV-related perceptions and needs of the general population. Khan stated that the development of the messages follows a study that assessed selected IEC/BCC indicators of the National HIV and AIDS Response as well as the effectiveness of current approaches to behavioural change. “The findings of the study revealed a lack of comprehensive knowledge about HIV, misconceptions and myths, whilst stigma and discrimination against People Living with HIV (PLHIV) and other Key Affected Populations remain high, causing both fear of testing and fear of disclosure of status, he stated.
During the days that followed, participants went through an intense and elaborate review of both old and new messages to determine their relevance in line with the current HIV and AIDS situation and the study findings. The messages were also pre-tested in various communities and the comments received were incorporated. At the end of the workshop, a draft message booklet was produced which will be reviewed and finalized after which copies will be produced for use by communication specialists and health personnel through the Directorate of Health Promotion and Education to disseminate HIV and AIDS message nationwide on posters, leaflets, brochures, flyers and billboards. Radio and TV jingles will also be produced to enhance effective communications on HIV and AIDS.
This is the first time the conference hall in AbCa’s creek lodge was used after its completion. The Executive Director of AAITG was therefore given the honour and privilege to officially inaugurate the new Conference hall. He thanked the proprietors Abdoulie and Caroline Gaye for the honour and prayed for the hall to be a success in the development affairs of the country.