Minister wants HIV/AIDS taught in schools
--- journalists commit to greater awareness role

Guyana Chronicle
July 25, 2003

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GEORGETOWN (GINA) - Heath Minister Dr. Leslie Ramsammy has called for HIV/AIDS to be taught as a separate and examinable subject in schools.

The Minister made the call yesterday at a workshop for journalists at the Hotel Tower at which they committed their media organizations and themselves to improving and increasing efforts to help in the fight against the dreaded HIV/AIDS.

He said his Ministry is willing to give one hour per day to every class on the subject, without making the intervention an additional burden to the Ministry of Education.

The workshop, organized by the Guyana Information News Agency (GINA) in collaboration with UNICEF, allowed officials and journalists to examine a number of initiatives in which the media can play a greater role.

GINA Director Dr. Prem Misir told participants representing both the print and electronic media that the potential role of the mass media in the fight against HIV/AIDS should not be underestimated. Dr. Misir said although the virus has been spreading since the late 1970’s, it was not identified until 1981 when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a paper showing unusual clusters of the population with the virus.

Dr. Ramsammy said that with increased participation by the media in the fight against HIV/AIDS, Guyana’s programme would improve by leaps and bounds. He said that media practitioners should not underplay the fact that Guyana is in a crisis situation, though the country can truly feel some sense of pride in its comprehensive National AIDS Programme.

Special Representative at UNICEF, Mr. Fritz Lherisson, said the workshop can act as a catalyst to building a relationship between the media and interested agencies and organizations. He said the impact of the disease is tremendously devastating, killing parents, destroying families and creating orphans. Children and young people between the ages of 15 and 25 are the age groups that are most affected by the virus.

Dr. Misir stated, too, that the HIV infection in Guyana claims about 3 to 5 percent of the population. Dr. Misir presented UNAIDS epidemiological data which show that 800 of the young, aged 0 - 15 were HIV infected, and 33 (1.5%) of those aged 10 - 14 progressed to AIDS at the end of 2001.

Miss Vivian Lopez, HIV/AIDS Project Officer, UNICEF said that poor choice of words often leads to discrimination, and stigmatization against persons infected with HIV/AIDS. She said that ‘epidemic’ should be used in place of words such as scourge or plague. She also noted that there are no AIDS tests, there are HIV tests. It was explained too that infected persons do not die of AIDS but rather of AIDS-related illnesses.

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