Linden Care Foundation targets HIV/AIDS stigma, discrimination in Region Ten
By Cathy Wilson
Stabroek News
May 13, 2003

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President of the Linden Care Foundation Hazel Maxwell-Benn is calling on the Regional Democratic Council of Region Ten (Upper Demerara/Berbice) to play a leading role in advocating the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by HIV/AIDS and the stigma associated with the disease.

Maxwell-Benn made the call recently at a retreat hosted by the LCF and funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The retreat was attended by stakeholders in the region, senior and junior peer educators and staff members of the foundation.

Among those present were Regional Education Officer Ruthel Spenser, Regional Probation Officer Marva Thomas, Regional Vice Chairman Joy Walton, Regional Executive Officer Basil Benn, and Regional Rights of the Child Chairman Fitz Ralph.

The retreat was designed for members and stakeholders of LCF to review past projects and programmes of the foundation and plan strategies for the future. The team managed to set a vision and mission for LCF for the next five to ten years.

The vision is “an HIV/ AIDS-wise Region Ten in 5-10 years” and the mission is “to embrace and give hope and continued support to persons infected and affected by HIV/AIDS and to work with other organizations to eliminate the vicious cycle that contributes to the spread of HIV/AIDS.”

“The RDC has been successful in advocating for better roads, schools, and other social amenities and budgetary activities and I am certain that those same energies could be used to influence the eradication of the stigma attached the HIV/AIDS..... if this is not done, very soon, rather than discussing other issues of regional development at statutory meetings, they will have a crisis on their hand and have to discuss the high toll of deaths in the region relating to HIV/AIDS.”

Region Ten is said to have the second highest recorded number of persons living with HIV/AIDS in Guyana.

Since the inception of the LCF in the mining town, the organisation has been working to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS in the region through its peer education and care and support projects. Now the foundation is targeting the issue of stigma and discrimination against persons living with and affected by HIV/AIDS.

The highest HIV/AIDS-related deaths in the region occur among the 25-35 age group and are evenly distributed among males and females.

The LCF is also concerned about those who feel that at some time or the other they might have been exposed to contracting the virus. This group is very reluctant to get tested, since they are fearful that should they test positive they would end up being rejected by the community.

In many cases persons who have suspicions about their HIV status never get tested until they fall ill. At that time, if HIV is present, the viral load in their system would have been very high. Often times it is too late for effective treatment and death follows shortly.

The effects of the deaths are far reaching since most of those persons leave behind a number of children who have to be cared for by grandparents and other guardians who can ill afford the financial burden. In some cases children who would have contracted the HIV virus from birth eventually die because of the lack of proper care and poor nutrition.

To date the LCF provides nutritional enhancement for over one hundred children in the Linden community alone, but the service is so far limited to just twice weekly.

The LCF has expressed the view that should the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS be removed and the disease looked at in a manner similar to cancer or diabetes, the discrimination would end. And this would allow HIV positive persons to freely seek medical attention and the early death toll would be significantly decreased.

Meanwhile Regional Vice Chairman Walton and Regional Executive Officer Benn who were both at the retreat committed the RDC to continue working with the LCF. They undertook to propose to the council that the president of LCF should sit as a co-opted member of the RDC’s health committee and be able to attend statutory meetings and plead its case.

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