A call for more education on HIV/AIDS
Guyana Chronicle
June 11, 2003

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WITH the exception of SARS as well as a few other deadly late 20th century infections, HIV/AIDS has to be the one killer disease, whose effects have elementally altered human behaviour in the least two decades. Not only has HIV/AIDS robbed entire communities of mothers and fathers, but also it has deprived consenting adults of the spontaneity and fullest expressions of sexual intimacy, has thrown up walls of suspicion and guardedness between health personnel and patients, and among competitors in contact sports. In clans of impoverished villages, the ravages of HIV/AIDS have placed on elderly grandmothers the burden of raising armies of orphans. At the economic level, poor, underdeveloped countries find their resources stretched to the limit in their efforts to care for the stricken, even when life-enhancing anti-viral medications are made available at much cheaper costs. In time, the steady loss of workers in their most productive years creates negative ripples in the economy forcing countries such as Botswana to import skilled and trained professionals from far-flung lands such as Guyana.

On Monday, Canadian High Commissioner to Guyana, Mr Serge Marcoux made the astonishing disclosure that there are 15,000 new HIV infections per day worldwide. He noted, too, that the virus is outstripping efforts to contain it, reversing hard-won development gains, increasing mortality rates among children under five, exacerbating poverty and inequality, afflicting the education system, striking business and economies, and diminishing political stability and national security in many countries. Mr Marcoux was at the time addressing a short ceremony at which Cdn$4.8M was donated to Guyana by his government with the specific purpose of improving the response of local health authorities to the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases as well as malaria and tuberculosis.

According to the High Commissioner, his government had observed that HIV/AIDS weakens the immune system thereby hindering the body’s ability to fight against other diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria. As a result, the three diseases are closely linked.

Since the mid-1990s, tuberculosis, which is rampant in poor, crowded communities, was deemed one of the opportunistic diseases to which victims of AIDS were most susceptible. We applaud this effort by the Canadian government to assist health authorities in Guyana with the massive task of reducing the incidence of tuberculosis and malaria especially in the situations involving persons, who are HIV-positive and those living with AIDS. We would also like to encourage the agencies of the Ministry of Health and all non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in their work of educating Guyanese about the various effects of HIV/AIDS on individuals and communities. In recent times, there have been many creative public service notices in print as well as on the electronic media informing persons in the basics of protecting themselves sexually and otherwise. We urge all agencies and social bodies to continue working with youths to get these important messages across.

Last week’s disclosure by Health Minister Leslie Ramsammy that 45 per cent of workers in the sex industry are infected with HIV should serve as a wake-up call for Guyanese. Amazingly, past surveys have revealed that such announcements have had little or no deterrent effect on certain patrons. Researchers have noted, too, that for the poor and downtrodden, the threat of death ten to 15 years in the future holds little meaning, when the immediate goal of their daily existence is to find enough food to quell the pangs of hunger in order to survive another day.

In spite of these trends, we are convinced that with more emphasis being placed on persuading teenagers and young adults to choose safe lifestyles and adopt life-enhancing behaviours and practices, the dismal effects of rampant HIV/AIDS will be reduced significantly in the coming decades.

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