Ebbing the HIV/AIDS tide Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
September 17, 2003

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REPORTS of the success of neighborhood outreach programmes to sensitize people to HIV/AIDS and how they can help to turn the tide of the killer disease are all very encouraging.

Even more epidemic heartening is the decision by the United States, through USAID and other agencies, to supplement efforts by Guyanese to contain the epidemic that since 1987 has taken a heavy toll on family life.

When we last penned an editorial on HIV/AIDS, we described the disease as a "killer on the loose."

It still is a killer on the loose. Hardly a week passes by that one doesn't hear of someone dying from the virus. And young people up to the age of 39 continue to account for the great majority of victims.

One can reason that as a people whose nation has become part of the superhighway of information, Guyanese have access to multiple sources of information on HIV/AIDS.

We've been told time again about the consequences of reckless living, seen sexually active acquaintances succumb to the folly of having unprotected sex, multiple partners or using vaccine-based drugs. Yet the rate of infections among the literate has increased significantly, clearly making HIV/AIDS both a health problem and development problem.

A "brochure" on Guyana prepared by the UN notes that the country is seriously affected by HIV/AIDS. "It has a generalized epidemic, with three quarters of the infections occurring among those aged 19-35. Although there is a lack of reliable data, some studies estimate HIV prevalence in the general population to be even more than the proposed figure of 3%. The HIV infection rate among vulnerable populations, particularly sex workers and STI clinic patients is very high and continues to increase. HIV transmission is primarily heterosexual."

As we have heard repeatedly from UN experts since 2000, HIV/AIDS threatens human welfare, socio-economic advances, productivity, social cohesion, and even national security. HIV/AIDS reaches into every corner of society, affecting parents, children and youth, teachers and health workers, rich and poor.

It is true that the government increasingly recognizes HIV/AIDS as a national problem of growing magnitude and that political commitment for action is increasing, particularly following Guyana's participation at UNGASS.

But so also is the level of involvement of sectors other than health in response to HIV/AIDS and the intensification and geographic coverage of key interventions beyond the capital into various other sub-regions of the country.

Guyana HIV/AIDS/STI Youth Project, which is receiving support from Family Health International (FHI), is one of many non-governmental initiatives that are taking the offensive against HIV infection. The US Government is contributing US$45 million to US$60 million over the next five years through USAID and other bilateral and intentional community donors are supporting strategies that we hope will result in the ebbing of this fierce HIV/AIDS tide in the stream of Guyanese life.

We encourage support for the youth ambassadors who have undertaken the task of sensitizing their peers and Guyanese in general to the benefits of living healthy, sensible lifestyles.

Guyana has a long way to get to the upper crust of development and so it needs the productive cooperation of every able-bodied national to see us through.

It is our fervent hope that we will recognize the essence of the support we're receiving from the U.S., Canada, Britain and other countries and complement those regimens of support with pro-active efforts to reverse the spread HIV/AIDS in our nation.