Fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic
August 19, 2003
THE LAUNCHING of a programme on Thursday by Monique's Helping Hands to promote support for people in Guyana living with HIV/AIDS, is a commendable move by New York-based Caribbean People International Collective Inc.
It may not at first glance appear to have anything to do with the prevention of the killer disease.
But it does.
By working to empower and bring new hope to persons living with HIV/AIDS, Monique's Helping Hands anticipates inspiring disease-infected patients to share their story and, hopefully, motivate positive behaviour change in sexually-active young people.
If realized, that will have added further impetus to the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Lurking in the foreground, yet ironically away from the focus of the sexually active, HIV/AIDS is a killer on the loose, continually threatening to grind Guyana's forward-to-development movement to a halt.
HIV/AIDS is still considered a private concern, a behind-the-curtain issue that belongs in the realm of confidentiality. Many people are still either too scared to take an HIV test for fear of what they might learn, or they don't consider testing for HIV a necessity. One reason could be that people are aware that the virus can take as long as ten years to show up in an infected person. Besides, available treatments can prevent or cure some of the illnesses associated with AIDS - though the treatments do not cure AIDS itself.
But far from being a private or personal matter, HIV/AIDS has become the number one public health concern of our times. Millions of dollars are being spent each year to sensitize the public to HIV/AIDS not just because the virus has infected and killed countless numbers of Guyanese since we first diagnosed it here in 1987. Governmental action is being taken because HIV/AIDS is striking at the heart of the country's most productive resource - infecting persons primarily between the ages of 15 and 49.
National AIDS Programme Secretariat personnel believe that the 143 percent increase in reported HIV cases between March 2000 and March 2001 doesn't come close to the amount of Guyanese who have literally been infected with the disease. They estimate that, even today, unreported cases account for 60 percent of infected Guyanese!
No wonder Guyana has the second highest infection rate in the Caribbean behind Haiti - and hence the U.S. Government's decision to include Guyana on its list of beneficiaries for HIV/AIDS fight financial assistance!
We commend new U.S. Ambassador Bullen for identifying with Guyana's anti-AIDS Programme and we also salute local and overseas non-governmental organizations for incorporating strategies in their programme to reduce AIDS cases and HIV/AIDS-related deaths in Guyana.
We suggest that new programmes address factors that help to reduce infections. Among them:
* Some people put off getting tested for HIV, preventing early treatment.
* Those who do get treatment may experience negative side effects and simply stop taking the medications.
* Some develop a resistance to the drugs, making them ineffective.
* Lack of access to adequate health care prevents some people from learning about the disease or getting proper medication.
If the carrier-support programme by Monique's Helping Hands is designed to include the integral participation of residents in HIV prevention planning groups and have people serve as models in motivating adoption of reduced risk practices among community folks, that's all to the good.
As Monique's and other groups are demonstrating, no matter what else is going on around us or preoccupying our time, combating HIV/AIDS must be given equal priority and prominence with other macro concerns.