More people living with HIV getting involved in the fight
-field worker
Stabroek News
May 1, 2002

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The number of persons living with HIV and AIDS who have become involved in the fight against the disease has risen, according to field worker with the Greater Involvement of People Living with HIV/AIDS (GIPA) initiative, Stacy Wilson.

Speaking to Stabroek News at the United Children's Fund (UNICEF) building recently, Wilson said she had seen people living longer because of the information provided by the initiative. According to her, persons have been organising groups in different regions and advocating for treatment and quality care.

"We have been seeing a stronger capacity building with people with HIV/AIDS," Wilson said. She said that they had seen a lot of community work from the initiative where people who were actually living with the disease added a face to it.

Questioned on what exactly the GIPA initiative has been doing for people living with HIV and AIDS and how those persons could get information about the initiative, Wilson said they have been working through Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and that the implementing agency at present is the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association (GRPA). According to her, a lot of people visit the GRPA for information and are referred to the initiative where they are given the necessary details.

She said there was a network in Guyana called, the Guyanese Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS which was established in 1997, and at present persons are working on rebuilding and resuscitating the network.

"You can access information, if you want the support, from the Gum [Genito-Urinary Medicine] Clinic and NGOs that are aware of the project such as Lifeline [Counselling Services] and the Linden Care Foundation Group," she said.

She said persons could get care and support and learn from the numerous capacity-building workshops, more about the disease and how to better take care of themselves.

Wilson said that GIPA would soon open an office at 35 `B' North Road, Lacytown where there will be a centre for persons to visit.

It is hoping to establish groups in the regions. Wilson has been field worker with the initiative from 2000 when it was introduced in Guyana.

Project Co-ordinator of the Caribbean section of the initiative, Olufemi Olugbemi, said that the initiative was a worldwide one and it was born out of the 1994 AIDS Summit in Paris, during which 42 heads of state from around the world signed a declaration to push the greater involvement of persons living with HIV/AIDS in the fight against the dreaded disease.

According to him, prior to the initiative there were groups which had persons living with the disease who were already involved in the fight.

However, the United Nations' (UN) support of the GIPA initiative did not come on board until 1996 when it was realised that after the signatures of the heads of state not much was in place to facilitate the involvement of persons living with HIV/AIDS.

According to Olugbemi, in order to address that gap the UN through a programme known as the UN Volunteer's Programme established pilot projects in Malawi and Zambia in 1996.

The project was not introduced in the Caribbean until 1991 when pilot projects were started in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Jamaica and Haiti. He explained that the UN support was to compliment the NGOs support.

"So where we come in at the UN is to provide institutional support using our own experiences and existing structure to promote the involvement of persons living with HIV/AIDS," Olugbemi said.

Explaining why persons afflicted by HIV/AIDS must be involved in the fight, the project co-ordinator said this must happen as nobody knew the disease better than the persons living with it. There is also a need to recognise that the epidemic has a stigma attached and persons who went public with their infection were discriminated against and excluded from developmental issues.

He said that in the Caribbean there are about 50 national volunteers who work as the field soldiers. This means the volunteers will be out in the fields reaching out to those who are having difficulties dealing with their condition.

The UN recruits persons as national volunteers to establish support groups which are strengthened and become partners with other agencies such as NGOs, UN agencies and government agencies.