The spectre of HIV/AIDS Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
October 16, 2002

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ADDRESSING a sports seminar on HIV/AIDS last weekend, Health Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy emphasised a number of critically important issues that have direct relevance to the future survival and well being of the Guyanese nation. The first issue was the perception that only the Ministry of Health and its various medical clinics had the sole responsibility of combating the spread of HIV/AIDS. The Health Minister stressed the point that this responsibility was shared with religious bodies, social groups and every single individual since no one was beyond the reach of the most dreaded disease afflicting mankind.

Another issue examined by Dr Ramsammy was the long-term debilitating effects HIV/AIDS would have on the development goals of the nation. He pointed out that Guyana could have the best plans and strategies for moving the country forward, but if a sizeable segment of the population becomes disabled then these development plans would never fructify. Further, with each individual laid low with the disease the country’s medical resources would be more taxed in caring for the sick. The offspring and dependants of those stricken would also have to be provided for by the state.

The third point raised by the Health Minister was the very important caveat to the nation’s youth of preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS by responsible sexual behaviour. He cautioned the young people to be sensible and not to rush into sexual activity at too early an age just because of their raging hormones. They were encouraged to try abstinence and to delay sexual experience until the time was right. Even then, Minister Ramsammy suggested they must try to be faithful to their partners and be honest with themselves. He told a story of a 20-something year old married woman, who was at the Georgetown Hospital for the treatment of one complaint, when she was diagnosed as being HIV-positive. Her husband, who was later tested, was also HIV-positive. In subsequent interviews, the husband and wife insisted that theirs was a perfect marriage and that they were absolutely faithful to each other. Of course, after hours of questioning, the husband finally admitted that he had engaged in ten extra-marital affairs!

Dr Ramsammy told the seminar participants that as budding sportsmen and sportswomen they were well placed to be role models in their communities. He reasoned that although they were not as famous as other Guyanese sporting stars such as ‘Big Truck’ Braithwaite, ‘Sixhead’ Lewis, Shivnarine Chanderpaul or Ramnaresh Sarwan, they are known and respected in their communities and therefore should lead by the example of responsible sexual behaviour.

Over the last decade, social groups in collaboration with the medical authorities have been sponsoring dozens of public service messages on ways of combating the spread of HIV/AIDS. A great portion of these messages was aimed at teenagers and young people since they were the most vulnerable members of society. But, in spite of all these messages across the media, the incidence of HIV/AIDS has been on the increase. There are of stories told of children, who have lost both mother and father to the dreaded disease. Some of these orphans are now growing up in deprived conditions since the relatives with whom they now live have to share their meagre resources among their own offspring and the orphans.

If the grim statistics on the march of AIDS are to be believed, then in another few years Guyana will see the army of orphans growing from strength to strength. Hopefully, the admonitions by Minister Ramsammy and the other health officials, will witness some significant behaviour modification among our youthful sportsmen and women.