November 17, 1999
In a rational, well-informed world the onset of the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV) which leads to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) would have virtually eliminated casual, unprotected sex given the potentially fatal risks involved. As is well known, this is far from the case. Either because they lack information on the subject, do not understand the risk of infection, are not aware that a completely healthy looking person may have HIV and may not even be aware of it as he or she may not have been tested and may therefore be fatal as a sexual partner, young and not so young persons continue to indulge in a promiscuous lifestyle without protection.
A person infected with HIV, be he or she a sex worker or a promiscuous amateur is not likely to develop AIDS for five to ten years. During that time, they can and do infect a lot of other people as in many cases they will not have been tested and will not be aware of their condition. It is a tragic and terrifying situation. Professional social workers speak of an HIV/AIDS crisis in Guyana and believe there is already a high level of infection. The situation can only get worse unless there is a more widespread appreciation of the dangers and the need for prevention.
With this in mind the National Aids Programme Secretariat supported by UNAIDS Theme Group Guyana held two workshops in September to sensitise media workers on HIV/AIDS issues. Both workshops were well received though attendance from media houses could have been better. The big problem, of course, is how to get the message over to the many sexually active persons who are still not aware of the risks involved. Those in a longstanding monogamous relationship have nothing to worry about. They know they are safe. Any other sexual activity is more or less dangerous unless one is absolutely certain that the other person has never been exposed to infection which is clearly impossible. How they look and the current state of their health is no guide. They may be young and vibrant but may have picked up an infection a few months before of which they have no idea. Testing for HIV is still very much the exception unless required for certain types of insurance.
HIV is the infection, AIDS is the disease. AIDS is not transmitted, HIV is. Some of the symptoms of AIDS are well known and include substantial weight loss, persistent or intermittent fever, persistent dry cough, prolonged tiredness, diarrhoea, generalised swelling of the lymph-nodes, skin rashes or sores and night sweats. But a person with HIV may show none of these. The immediate problem therefore is containing the spread of the HIV infection. The ultimate and separate problem is caring humanely for those who are already ill.
Safe sex, the use of condoms, is obviously one of the main weapons in containing the spread of HIV. But there is a responsibility on parents particularly, but also perhaps on teachers, the media and others to spread the word that careless, casual sex can be tantamount to signing your death warrant and can lead to a painful and tragic death in ten years time.
A © page from: Guyana: Land of Six Peoples