The noble quest of universal access to AIDS treatment
December 6, 2003
HUMAN sexual relations have been forever changed with the advent and march of HIV/AIDS. Whether this is a backlash of the heady years of the sexual revolution or, as some religious fundamentalists believe, a modern-day scourge sent by God to punish mankind for the sins of fornication, adultery or same sex liaisons, the world is witnessing a changing culture of human sexuality.
When it first emerged in the early 1980s, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), a condition, which often leads to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), was peddled to be a plague, affecting homosexuals. Then it was blamed on the Haitians. At that stage, ordinary persons, who were neither practising homosexuals (gays) or Haitians, were comforted by the thought that they were out of the reach of this disease, which progressively broke down the body’s defences leaving victims vulnerable to pneumonia and tuberculosis.
However, as the years of the 1990s rolled by, those comfortable members of society would be given a rude and frightening awakening as HIV/AIDS left the shadows of the high-risk groups such as male gays and intravenous drug users and spread its tentacles to claim respectable and upright citizens, as well as post-surgery persons, who had been inadvertently infected with tainted blood products. These developments would give thinking persons pause thwarting in the process any inclination to participate in so-called romantic and illicit affairs in their own communities or during various journeys, tours, business trips or study courses. No longer was it safe for persons to follow their instincts and throw caution to the winds when opportunities arose. Potential sex partners had to be “interviewed”, and their attitude to responsible sexual practices examined and checked out before any serious overtures are made. Such was the reaction of responsible and intelligent persons.
Of course, there is the obverse side to this school of thought, and to some extent, it is more pronounced as one moves down the social ladder. The wretchedly poor, who inhabit the outer margins of society are the ones least likely to heed the well-meaning messages of public service announcements. What do they care about adjusting their present behaviours in order to avert the possibility of developing AIDS ten to 15 years down the road? Since their daily existence is a continuing desperate struggle to get to eat so that they and their children could survive another day, they couldn’t care less about the future. There are also the sex industry workers, who for a few dollars more can be readily persuaded to forego protection in the sexual encounters. The men who patronise them have also heard about the dangers of contracting HIV/AIDS. They, too, are happy to ignore such warnings being confident that they are invincible to this scourge.
Fortunately for Guyanese, to contract HIV/AIDS is not necessarily the death sentence it was ten years ago. Not only are the drugs and therapies available to victims here, the Ministry of Health, with the assistance of several world bodies, foundations and agencies, is making available to persons living with AIDS all the medications necessary to halt the march of the disease. The Ministry is also aggressively moving to block mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS. Combined with a good nutrition regimen, these programmes do not only alleviate the worst symptoms of HIV/AIDS, they also restore most victims to good physical condition so that they could once again be vibrant participants in their homes, as well as good contributing members to their communities and the nation.
We must therefore record our gratitude to the government of the United States and other donor countries, the United Nations and all the international agencies and organisations that have spared no effort in giving cash, expertise to help halt the ravages of HIV/AIDS in Guyana.