The dead tolls in the village Mandari has in a few years has gone down, from one funeral for an AIDS victim a week, to one every half year. Today people in Mandari depart from the same reasons as people from the rest of Ghana - accidents, illness or age. This is partly due to the new openness and awareness of sex and HIV.
Text and photo Lotte Ærsøe
Mandari village is located in the north-western part of Ghana, a few kilometres from the border with Ivory Coast. Most young people make their living from trading goods in the neighbouring country. This is how it has always been in this part of Ghana but a few years ago the youth started falling ill.
"I had two unmarried daughters, who both tested HIV-positive. One day one of them felt very weak and after a few days her skin looked like lizard skin. At the hospital they said that it was HIV, and that she needed to start talking AIDS drugs. She did not believe the doctor, and she died," says Abubakari Alahasan with sorrow in his voice. His eyes light up slightly as he continues: "Very soon my other daughter is getting married and her future husband knows that she is HIV-positive. She is doing well because she takes her medication," he underlines.
Sexual Revolution On the surface Mandari village is an ordinary, poor village in Bole district in northern Ghana. Here, Muslims Christians and animists live side by side. But it is not entirely ordinary that Muslim fathers talk about their daughters using condoms.
The small organisation for people living with HIV - DOSI and the local NGO PAPADEV have through simple methods managed to create nothing less than a sexual revolution in the small community. For DOSI do not think they can talk about HIV and prevention without also talking about sex, and sex is usually taboo when men and women are together. IBIS is supporting DOSI and PAPADEV to train HIV-AIDS activists in the villages around Bole.
"We urge everyone to use a condom" IBIS has been invited to join Mary Damanga from DOSI to participate in a meeting of the HIV-AIDS activist group in Mandari. "I always use a condom when I am with my wife," said Salia Abudraman emphatically, and mimes how he rolls on a condom.
His wife Forstina Samata nods and adds: "We talk quite openly about using condoms and encourage everyone, including married couples to use condoms too. The positive side effect is that women have fewer children, with several years in between. So the condom protects against HIV and protects women from being worn out by too many childbirths."
"Yes, I have only one wife and four children, I do not need any more," adds her husband Salia Abudraman, with a twinkle in his eye.
Meeting people living with HIV made a difference Most religious communities thunders against sex before marriage. This can force many young people to make their own hard-earned experience, because they do not dare to speak openly about sex. Such was the case here just a few years ago. "Initially we were friendly but firmly excused from the village whenever we talked about sex and HIV," says Mahmoud Nantomah from IBIS' partner PAPADEV, "but when we took Mary Damanga and her husband from DOSI out here, people began to listen . Many of them had met them at the hospital in Bole and knew that they were both HIV-positive, but was no longer sick. "
"My husband brought his medication with him to a village meeting one day and at midday he asked for some water so he could take his medicine. So, right there in the midst of the meeting, he stood up and showed all his medication before he swallowed it, "says Mary Damanga.
Model of Hope Mary Damanga met her husband after they both had lost their first spouses to HIV-AIDS. They married and founded DOSI together. Their home is now a sanctuary, or as they call it "a Model of hope" where they care for HIV-patients and help them to recover if possible. The couple mobilise HIV-AIDS activists in the villages around Bole and appeal to PAPADEV, the local health authorities and the hospital to raise funds and food to carry on with their work of caring.
Positive role models The villagers pay keen attention when Mary Damanga with her own body and experiences demonstrates that one can live a full life as HIV-positive, if only one get tested before falling ill and takes medication punctually.
In Mandari young people with sexual partners before marriage are called speeders. "My husband and I were both speeders before we were married. That is why we both have been tested before taking the wows," says Mariam Ibrahim, settling her tiny newborn daughter into her arms and continues: "I was incredibly relieved and happy when we both tested negative."
Awareness and Prevention Prejudices about HIV and AIDS are massive and the lack of fundamental knowledge about transmission and prevention is endemic in the rural areas where few have gone to school and most adults are farmers and border traders. DOSI and PAPADEV's mobilisation of HIV-AIDS activists fills an important void in awareness about and prevention of HIV in the remote villages in the north-western Ghana.
DOSI means "Accept it and live with it" in the local language Wale.
The towns of Bole and Wa has the highest number of peoples living with HIV in Ghana. While the rest of the country have an average of 1.8 percent HIV-Positive, UN-AIDS estimates that as many as 10 percent live with HIV here in this poor and remote north-western corner of Ghana.