Health Ministry launches new HIV/AIDS campaign By Shirley Thomas
Guyana Chronicle
March 16, 2004

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THE Ministry of Health yesterday officially launched its "Me to You: Reach One-Save One" Behaviour Change Communication Campaign aimed at rapidly increasing the number of persons pledging a commitment to spread the message of HIV/AIDS prevention, and reducing stigma and discrimination associated with the disease.

The campaign which was launched by Minister of Health, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy, at the National Cultural Centre aims at enlisting the participation of as wide a cross section of the population as possible, targeting a minimum 100,000 persons. It is expected that all coupons should be returned, signed by December 1, 2004 - World Aids Day.

The campaign was the brainchild of Minister of Health, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy, and was organized by the Ministry of Health, with technical support from the United Stated Agency for International Development (USAID) and Population Services International (PSI) - its implementing partner. The contribution of USAID's Mr. William (Bill) Slater was specially acknowledged among accolades showered on those who supported the effort. Mr. Slater who played a lead role in getting the programme started proceeded on transfer from Guyana less that a fortnight ago.

Through the campaign, the Ministry of Health will make available a large quantity of coupon books bearing a pledge to which each person agreeing to enlist in the campaign will affix his/her signature. The pledge states thus: "I pledge to take immediate action to prevent the spread of HIV, and to respect persons living with HIV and AIDS."

Noting the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS on the Guyanese society, Dr. Ramsammy, in urging persons to make a personal pledge to protect themselves and those around them from HIV, admonished Guyanese to: "Take the Pledge; Share the Pledge and Keep the Pledge."

According to Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, Ms. Sonia Roopnauth, the campaign, which is relatively inexpensive, compared to others, seeks to build upon past awareness campaigns by encouraging pledge takers to translate that awareness into action aimed at protecting themselves and those around them from HIV.

The person signing the pledge must first undertake to learn how HIV is spread, then seek to find out what he/she can do to prevent the spread of the virus.

For the benefit of those signing the pledge, the coupon, as well as specially prepared pamphlets which will be distributed free of charge, offers guidance on positive action to be taken so as to reduce the spread of HIV, and foster respect for Persons Living With HIV/AIDS. (PLWHA).

Employing the use of behaviour change communication messages, the 'positive actions' advocated, target specific groups and are premised on the ABC-model. These include:

* A-Abstinence - Specifically for youths, who will pledging to protect themselves by not having sex, and letting their peers know that it is okay to wait until they are older and the time is right. The pledge also includes talking about prevention with someone close to that individual.

* B-Being faithful: (For adults) Pledging to stay faithful within a committed relationship and endeavouring to know his/her partner's status.

* C-Consistent and correct use of condoms. The persons making the pledge also undertakes to talk to friends, so as to ensure them too, always use condoms.

* Seek to make use of Voluntary Counselling and Testing facilities so as to determine one's serostatus (HIV-status). The pledger undertakes to go to the nearest Voluntary Counselling and Testing centre to learn more about HIV and how it affects him/her.

Very soon, USAID's implementing partner - Population Services International (PSI), will introduce the services of its "NEW START" Voluntary Counselling and Testing facility with conveniently located sites, and in some cases - mobile.

The theme "Reach One: Save One" implies that the person taking and sharing the pledge will talk about those positive actions with parents, children, friends, partner and everyone that is close to him/her.

Dr. Ramsammy said that, as citizens, and as just plain human beings, our responsibility is not only to educate every Guyanese, to educate each other, but also to promote personal responsibility in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and responding to those who, unfortunately, have become victims of this horrible malady."

He said that the campaign, in effect, combines important goals: to disseminate information; to make people more knowledgeable (and therefore empower them), and to promote personal action in the fight against HIV/AIDS and to stop stigma and discrimination of PLWHAs. Minister Ramsammy sees the initiative as affording an opportunity for Guyanese - at all levels, to act together, work in unity, as one people and as one nation in this battle against a common enemy.

He said the intention is that all individuals - communities, groups and organizations among other, currently involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS will continue to work, and will join the battle of "Me to You: Reach One Save One", so that those not involved at the moment will join this national effort.

And Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Mr. Ganga Persaud who commended the initiative, announced that his Ministry is moving to have the teaching of HIV/AIDS education introduced in schools by September next. He noted that one of the major concerns of the Ministry of Education is the rate at which HIV/AIDS is spreading in the 15-19 years age group.

Persaud said that a Life Skills based Health and Family Life Education (HFLE) Curriculum for primary school students and those of forms One to Three of the Secondary School system, has already been developed.

He assured that the Ministry of Education is working to ensure that every child receives access to quality basic education, and to promote universal secondary education. He however noted that a number of youths are cut down early in life by HIV/AIDS, adding that, if teachers and parents of these youth are also cut down early in life due to this disease, then all our initiatives would be in vain.

Among the special invitees at the ceremony were: United States Ambassador, His Excellency Roland Bullen, First Lady, Mrs. Varshnie Jagdeo; CARICOM Secretary General, Dr. Edwin Carrington; Vice Chairman PSI/Washington, Ms. Sally Cowall; USAID Director, Mr. Mike Sarhan; PAHO Resident Representative, Dr. Bernadette Theodore Gandi and others.