Accra, Ghana – Growing up along Ghana’s pristine Cape Coast was difficult for Hillary Afful. He knew he was gay as a child and was ostracized by many members of his family and community. Afful longed for an ally and someone to understand the trials and tribulations that come as a result of being gay in a homophobic society. Homosexuals are targeted in many African countries and a Ghanaian law banishing homosexuality labeling it "unnatural carnal knowledge” and therefore punishable by five to 25 years in jail. An IRIN article states, “The minister of Ghana’s Western Region, Paul Evans Aidoo, publicly described homosexuality as “detestable and abominable” after media reports in late May that 8,000 homosexuals had registered with health NGOs in the country’s west. Aidoo has since called for increased security in the region and the arrest of all homosexuals. Other religious leaders and politicians have followed suit, condemning homosexual activity.”
These laws deter homosexuals from seeking health services that in many instances can help save their lives. This vulnerable population along with female sex workers and other people living with HIV/AIDS are marginalized in society. In recent years a hotline has been established to provide a secure space to seek health education, receive counseling and learn about HIV care and treatment services. Implemented by FHI 360, the program is called Strengthening HIV/AIDS Response Partnership with Evidenced-Based Results (SHARPER) aims to combat stigma and change gender norms all while providing a free hotline called “Text Me! Flash Me!”
The hotline was launched in September 2008 and “uses cell phone technology to provide most-at-risk populations (MARP) in Ghana with friendly and accessible HIV and AIDS information, referrals and counseling services from qualified providers.” Currently the hotline is operating in 30 districts and aims to reach 178,000 individuals.
Watch this video to learn more about Ghanaians whose lives are impacted by the “Text Me! Flash Me” hotline services one call at a time.