`Wrap it up' battle launched by Neil Marks
Guyana Chronicle
July 14, 2002

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`We can all fight this thing. Together we must' - Health Minister, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy

THE Guyana Red Cross Society, Courts furniture store, the Ministry of Health and the Miss Guyana World Committee have launched an anti-HIV/AIDS campaign in hopes of battling alarming statistics which show that locally 1,300 people died of the disease last year and more than seven per cent of the adult population is currently infected.

Patron of the project, Miss Guyana World 2001 Olive Gopaul revealed the main aim of the fight when she Friday night displayed a packet of condoms and declared "Wrap it up every time" at a gala dinner, fashion show and dance at the Georgetown Club.

Gopaul and this year's Miss Guyana World contestants are involved in the year-long campaign to raise funds for the local fight against the AIDS plague, and to raise awareness of the disease.

At the end of last year, statistics from UNAIDS, the United Nations Children's Fund, the World Health Organisation and the Pan American Health Organisation show that an estimated 4,200 children under age 15 in Guyana were living as orphans specifically because their mother or father, or both parents, died of AIDS.

Children actually infected with HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) were 800 while the infected adult population was 17,000, according to the statistics.

The figures for the adult population were disputed by Minister of Health Dr. Leslie Ramsammy who said more than seven per cent of Guyana's adult population is HIV positive, and not 2.7 per cent as highlighted in the report.

Outside of sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean is recording the highest number of HIV cases, with some 420,000 people living with the virus. When all the variables are put together, Guyana's HIV population is the highest in the Caribbean, officials say.

As Guyana launched its contribution to the 2002 global campaign against the epidemic, Courts handed over an initial $1M to Mrs. Dorothy Fraser of the local Red Cross and in addition to the money garnered from ticket sales to the event, $103, 000 was raised from an instant raffle.

Last year, as part of an annual programme to set aside a sum of money for "worthy causes" Courts gave out $20M, but for this year Managing Director, Mr. David Burgess said the company recognised the urgency of AIDS education and awareness.

Sharing information he had on hand, Burgess said by year 2020, there would be 70 million people infected with the HIV virus in the world and 6,800 would die daily of AIDS.

Courts will use its resources to assist the Red Cross in expanding its community-based programmes, he said. Burgess said Courts will try to help change perception, attitudes and behaviour in order to prevent the spread of infection and to get more people to come forward and be tested.

"We need to educate all on the need for protection and the implications", he said.

The campaign has been developed to focus on youths and organisations such as youth clubs and sports groups will be targetted.

Courts hopes that its in-house sensitisation programme for its staff will motivate other organisations to do the same.

Funding for educational material, press, radio and television advertisements, documentaries and more will be developed and provided by the company, Burgess said.

Upcoming fundraising activities will include a seawall jam show, youth chat shows, fun walks in collaboration with Demerara Distillers Limited, coffee mornings, jumble sales and car washes.

Mrs. Fraser said HIV/AIDS was an unprecedented global crisis, but added that collaboration and an integrated system of treatment and care, removing the stigma and discrimination towards infected persons, can be a powerful agent of change.

Dr. Ramsammy sounded a similar message calling for all to "come together to fight a common enemy".

He said the task is daunting, but noted that collaboration can do wonders.

"We can all fight this thing. Together we must", he said.

Guyana has begun producing its own anti-AIDS drugs, and Ramsammy recognised this as the way to go, as the cost of drugs produced internationally is way too high to meet the local budget.

On Wednesday, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) signed a deal in Barcelona, Spain, with six international pharmaceutical companies to secure price discounts of up to 90% on life saving AIDS medicines.

Despite this drastic cut in price agreed to at the 14th International AIDS Conference in Spain, it's still not cheap enough for countries like Guyana, Jamaica and Haiti, DR. Denzil Douglas, St. Kitts/Nevis Prime Minister, said at the conference.

In a full show of support for the fundraising dinner and fashion show by the business community, prizes were given out to lucky persons and were donated by Courts, Cara Lodge St Lucia, Banks DIH, Shanklands, Baracara, Mainstay and Baganara resorts, MMC, DDL, Western Union, Farfan and Mendes, Scotia Bank, Metro, Arjune Printers and Le Meridien Pegasus.

The Georgetown Club offered its facilities at a reduced price while Stereosonics chipped in, providing music free of cost.

For the mini-fashion show, the 12 Miss Guyana World 2002 delegates modelled Derek Moore designs and in keeping with the thrust of the evening, they each took the stage flashing a condom.