The choices of life and death Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
February 12, 2004

Related Links: Articles on AIDS
Letters Menu Archival Menu

THE warning by Professor Karl Theodore in Trinidad and Tobago, that HIV/AIDS could annihilate the people of the Caribbean is frightening at best.

But it affirms our own conclusion in October of last year that try as governments and non-governmental organizations might, curbing the spread of HIV/AIDS is as much a choice of the sexually active person as it is the duty of proponents of a healthier, safer lifestyle to get the life-or-death message across.

Prof. Theodore told a HIV/AIDS workshop on Monday that from a 2 percent transmission rate in the Caribbean a decade ago, the AIDS virus currently accounts for the infection of about 40 percent of the region's adult population.

Prof. Theodore says the figure, as alarming as it is, doesn't surprise him. That's because of the geometric infections that result from the Caribbean "man" doggedly sticking to the behavioral pattern of having more than one partner.

The figures speak for themselves.

Compared to 1.5 million Caribbean nationals dying from HIV/AIDS between 1981 and 1991, that figure increased ten-fold to 15 million by 2001!

At that rate, Prof. Theodore anticipates 15 million people in the Caribbean dying from HIV/AIDS-related illnesses by 2006.

With Guyana having the second highest rate of infections in the Caribbean, it's hardly surprising that the National AIDS Programme Secretariat has reported a 143 percent increase in reported HIV cases between March 2000 and March 2001 alone. And that doesn't come close to the number of Guyanese the Secretariat believes are literally infected with the disease.

No wonder the Caribbean has been included in the U.S. government's US$15 billion HIV/AIDS reduction plan.

Thankfully, Guyana is one of 50 countries across the globe in which the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is implementing its HIV/AIDS strategy. Specific strategies vary by country, but all programs seek to reduce or keep prevalence rates low, reduce mother-to-child HIV transmission, and increase care, treatment, and support services for people living with or otherwise affected by AIDS.

The big obstacle to the success of the many programmes that are on stream is the refusal of many sexually active Guyanese to consider HIV/AIDS as a private concern, a behind-the-curtain issue that belongs in the realm of confidentiality. Many people are still either too scared to take a 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 could take five to 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.

The message has to be gotten to these people that, far from being a private or personal matter, HIV/AIDS has become the number one public health concern of our times and therefore a matter for all of us.

HIV/AIDS is striking at the heart of the country's most productive resource - infecting persons primarily between the ages of 15 and 49.

We thus we need to work overtime, with all the assistance that we can muster, to ensure that people are fully aware of the choices of life and death that their lifestyles present - and hopefully blunt Professor Theodore's grim expectations.