Facing the AIDS challenge

Guyana Chronicle
October 17, 1999

HEALTH Minister, Dr. Henry Jeffrey says that the greatest challenge in Guyana as it relates to the dreaded AIDS disease is transferring knowledge into action.

While many persons are educated about the disease, they do not transfer their knowledge into safe sexual behaviour, he told reporters last week, when he announced that Cabinet has approved a national AIDS policy document.

The document includes measures aimed at stemming the spread of AIDS but transferring knowledge into action would not be helped by the taboos about sex and sexual behaviour that still prevail in this society.

For example, while the public education campaign about AIDS pushes the message of safe sex and measures like the use of condoms, talking about sex in the open, including among young people, is still to a large extent regarded as taboo.

Young people found with condoms is usually frowned on by parents, forcing many youths to fear discussing the sex issue openly with them.

Some churches insist on abstinence from sex before marriage and sex outside of marriage but the reality is a far, far different story.

Although the majority of Guyanese have not been as liberal about sex as people in the western world, sex is no longer the closed door topic it was in the not so distant past.

That young people today indulge in sex on a scale far removed from what obtained when their parents were their age is an open secret, although some still try to pretend it is not so.

The society would have to face the reality if it is to successfully challenge the spread of the AIDS epidemic and those involved would have to include churches and religious groups.

Unless and until there is another sexual revolution anchored by the adherence to principles like abstinence and purity, all groups would do well to ensure they are effectively part of the drive to tame the AIDS monster.

The Health Ministry and allied groups are on the right track and the new measures Dr. Jeffrey referred to last week should help keep in check those found wantonly spreading the dreaded disease.

A commendable feature of the expanded campaign is extending the reach beyond the city and other urban areas with the creation of regional committees.

Those with the disease cannot be allowed to wantonly infect others and greater public awareness of the issues involved must be followed through as an integral part of the campaign.

Dr. Jeffrey reported that in Guyana, an estimated three to five per cent of the population is said to be infected with AIDS and it is the spread that all must fight to guard against.

The reality is that AIDS can be spread and is being spread and sticking to taboos about sex and sexual behaviour and avoiding the reality will only aid the epidemic.

All sections of society have to be open-minded on this issue.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples