Journal of Biosocial Science

Research Article

USING LAY COUNSELLORS TO PROMOTE COMMUNITY-BASED VOLUNTARY COUNSELLING AND HIV TESTING IN RURAL NORTHERN GHANA: A BASELINE SURVEY ON COMMUNITY ACCEPTANCE AND STIGMA

F. BAIDENa1, G. AKANLUa1, A. HODGSONa1, P. AKWEONGOa1, C. DEBPUURa1 and F. BINKAa2

a1 Navrongo Health Research Center, Ghana Health Service, Navrongo, UER, Ghana

a2 Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health, University of Ghana, Legon, Ghana

Summary

Access to voluntary counselling and HIV testing (VCT) remains limited in most parts of Ghana with rural populations being the least served. Services remain facility-based and employ the use of an ever-dwindling number of health workers as counsellors. This study assessed approval for the use of lay counsellors to promote community-based voluntary counselling and testing for HIV and the extent of HIV/AIDS-related stigma in the Kassena-Nankana district of rural northern Ghana. A cross-sectional questionnaire survey was conducted. Logistic regression was used to identify predictors of the tendency to stigmatize people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHAs). Focus group discussions were held and analytical coding of the data performed. The majority (91·1%) of the 403 respondents indicated a desire to know their HIV status. Most (88·1%) respondents considered locations outside of the health facility as preferred places for VCT. The majority (98·7%) of respondents approved the use of lay counsellors. About a quarter (24%) of respondents believed that it was possible to acquire HIV through sharing a drinking cup with a PLWHA. About half (52·1%) of the respondents considered that a teacher with HIV/AIDS should not be allowed to teach, while 77·2% would not buy vegetables from a PLWHA. Respondents who believed that sharing a drinking cup with a PLWHA could transmit HIV infection (OR 2·50, 95%CI 1·52–4·11) and respondents without formal education (OR 2·94, 95%CI 1·38–6·27) were more likely to stigmatize PLWHAs. In contrast, respondents with knowledge of the availability of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs were less likely to do so (OR 0·40, 95%CI 0·22–0·73). Findings from the thirteen focus group discussions reinforced approval for community-based VCT and lay counsellors but revealed concerns about stigma and confidentiality. In conclusion, community-based VCT and the use of lay counsellors may be acceptable options for promoting access. Interventional studies are required to assess feasibility and cost-effectiveness.