amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

GMT Grantee Profile

Centre for Popular Education and Human Rights, Ghana  (Accra, Ghana)

Standing up to opposition in order to provide services for MSM

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Strategies

  • Providing HIV interventions and advocacy in the face of severe discrimination
  • Doing more with fewer resources
  • Using creative educational programs to share HIV prevention and human rights messages

In the years that they have led HIV and human rights programs for MSM, the staff and volunteers of the Center for Popular Education and Human Rights Ghana (CEPEHRG) have learned some tough lessons about safety. CEPEHRG’s work takes place in the midst of daily threats and challenges from multiple fronts. Church activists jam its phone lines. Clients and staff are no strangers to police harassment, and live in daily fear of arrest and threats of extortion by law enforcement. Some government officials publicly denounce its work while others expect kickbacks in return for funding. And the national legal code criminalizes sexual behavior between men.

Ghana image 

Examples of CEPEHRG HIV- and AIDS-related behavior change communication (BCC) materials used to inform and motivate MSM in Accra 

Such is the daily experience of this small grassroots organization based in Accra. Since it was founded in 1998, CEPEHRG has fought the AIDS epidemic in Ghana by focusing on HIV prevention, education, and advocacy, with a strong emphasis on serving MSM and the LGBT community. HIV and AIDS are serious problems in Ghana, where the general HIV prevalence rate is about 2.3 percent. But the crisis is much worse among MSM, for whom the estimated prevalence is 25 percent—one in four.*

CEPEHRG’s MSM and HIV programs include a team of peer educators, paid and volunteer, who share information and encourage HIV testing. Over the last few years, these educators have helped dramatically increase the visibility and availability of safer sex information, condoms, and lubricant among MSM in Accra and surrounding communities, reaching thousands of men, according to CEPEHRG’s evaluation data. An HIV counseling and testing agent frequently accompanies the peer educators in the field. But unlike some other mobile HIV testing programs, CEPEHRG’s lacks a vehicle in which to provide these services. Instead, outreach team members carry supplies with them and find a private place to administer the test whenever needed.

In addition to outreach work, CEPEHRG conducts popular “love and trust” workshops that emphasize communication and negotiation skills for MSM. And it has become widely recognized for its use of educational theater programs to share HIV prevention and human rights messages. By participating in acting workshops, community members learn about rights abuses in their country. Ultimately they develop a show based on real-life examples of injustice against MSM and other LGBT people, which is performed for the public and used as a platform for group discussions about how to improve the situation in Ghana.As a respected advocate within Ghana, CEPEHRG has had to stand up to some of the country’s larger HIV/AIDS groups, which are not always receptive to the needs of MSM. “These are the same groups that have kept MSM in the closet in the past,” says Mac-Darling Cobbinah, the organization’s executive director. “You meet with these people and they have all the money and you’re the smallest group in the room. But you have to stay in the room and make sure your voice is heard.”

* Baral S, Sifakis F, Cleghorn F, Beyrer C. Elevated risk for HIV infection among men who have sex with men in low- and middle-income countries 2000-2006: A systematic review. PLoS Med. 2007;4(12):e339. 

 

In their own words

"Kwami" is a client of CEPEHRG

"I am doing my degree at university, and I was introduced to CEPEHRG about five years back by a friend on campus. Before then, we were all just going out to clubs and there was nothing like CEPEHRG that I saw.

In the past, we never had any group come and give us education. CEPEHRG let us know our rights and told us about different sexual orientations. There was a program called Condom Nights where the guys from CEPEHRG would come to a party and educate us on the proper use of condoms and stuff. It was an interactive show that was marked by dancing and singing and all that!

It has been an eye opener to me and my friends. My life has changed a lot and I have changed a lot of other people’s lives as well. Any education I get, I don’t keep it myself. I share it with my partners and my friends, maybe even to people outside my sexual orientation. I tell them without any fear. By helping me, CEPEHRG has helped a lot of my associates."

 

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