Extra Toothbrushes in Ghana: AIDS, Orphans and My Daughter’s School Uniform

As I came across the Varje Tugga Gor Skillnad (“every Bite Counts”) campaign for dental health education in Ghana, run by a chewing gum brand in Sweden, my mouth opened with surprise at an image of my daughter’s school SOS Tema as the recipient of education and free tooth brushes!

Children at SOS Nursery School in Tema, Ghana. Photo credit: Extra
Children at SOS Nursery School in Tema, Ghana. Photo credit: Extra
My daughter on first day of school. Photo credit: Me

I think what just happened was “them” and “us” melted into one. When aid projects are initiated, an important aspect is to create that difference between “us and “them” so that people will see why giving is necessary. Now when I think of that last month, I went to buy just that school uniform for my daughter, of course I find it difficult to see why those kids need a toothbrush!

Where I was expecting to read about dental health, the campaign states further that:

“Drygt en miljon barn i Ghana har förlorat en eller båda föräldrar, 160 000 av dem på grund av aids. Dessa barn är särskilt utsatta för barnarbete och människohandel, något som utgör allvarliga problem i landet. Majoriteten av människohandeln drabbar fattiga barn från landsbygden.”

(“More than one million children in Ghana have lost one of both parents, 160 000 of them due to AIDS. These children are especially vulnerable for child labor and trafficking, something that constitutes serious problems in the country [Ghana]. The majority of the trafficking concerns poor children from the country side.”) (my translation)

I felt tired that orphans and AIDS was what was on campaign makers minds – was this not about toothbrushes? – and felt their numbers were a bit high. Ghana’s population is 25 million and one million are children without one parent? 160 000 due to AIDS? Anyway, its a good opportunity to learn more about HIV/AIDS in Ghana. The Ghana AIDS Commission reports for 2013:

“The National HIV Prevalence in 2013 is 1.3%

An estimated 224,488 Persons made up of 189,931 adults and 34,557 Children (15%) are living with HIV in Ghana. There were 7,812 new infections, 2,407 in Children 0-14years and 5,405 in adults. There were 10,074 AIDS deaths being 2,248 in Children 0-14 years, and 7,826 adults Estimated Children Orphaned by AIDS is 184,168.”

This suggests, despite the horror hidden in these numbers, that Ghana still reports one of the lowest rates of HIV in Africa. The number 160 000 mentioned above is a total number for all years since AIDS was discovered. Currently, many individuals diagnosed with HIV are also on retroviral medication, which means the virus is slowed down and life expectancy goes up again.  (By chance, a famous HIV ambassador in Ghana this week told media she never even had HIV! But that is a different story…)

This campaign has been a very interesting learning opportunity for me: I have meditated on “us” and “them”, learned about the low HIV rate of Ghana, but I am also saddened my new home country has to be portrayed in this sad light, just for a chewing gum/ toothbrush campaign.

What do you think, is it right to highlight the worst to make people donate?

Read also WHO: 10 facts about HIV and this article explaining why a HIV-infected man was acquitted of charges of unprotected sex – he posed no threat to the women he slept with.

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