US AIDS activists create networks in the Caribbean
Stabroek News
February 10, 2004

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The United States-based National Association of People With AIDS (NAPWA) has initiated a twinning project with Caribbean countries designed to share information on the disease.

Members from the association were in Guyana last week and along with the Network of Guyanese Living with HIV/AIDS (G+) held several meetings with different HIV and AIDS-related organisations.

The link with the local body is seen as an important initiative, which could see better mobilisation for people living with HIV and AIDS.

Senior Associate for International Programmes in NAPWA, Stephanie Stines said that other than Guyana her association had worked with similar groups in Jamaica, Haiti and Trinidad and Tobago.

She told Stabroek News that the association would be providing technical assistance to the networks in the different Caribbean countries. Conferences will also be held in the USA to share information.

One important aspect of the group's visit to Guyana was the convening of a Needs Assessment and Work Development workshop meeting, in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) during which members of G+ were able to assess their challenges and also the status of the virus in Guyana.

According to Deneen Barrow, assistant secretary-general at G+, one of the major challenges that the organisation faces is the lack of adequate financial resources. Stigma, discrimination and lack of advocacy remain major problems. At the workshop a work plan was developed outlining how G+ might advocate for the rights of persons living with HIV and AIDS.

Barrow said members disclosed that they were sometimes discriminated against by health workers even though some of those same people were trained to deal with infected persons.

She said they were also exploring the idea of training committee groups and also how they could initiate follow-up training for nurses and other health workers who come in contact with infected persons. The workshop was attended by 18 persons.

NAPWA was founded in 1983 and is the oldest national AIDS organisation in the United States. It was founded at an AIDS conference in Denver when a group of people living with AIDS came together and formed a caucus to speak for themselves.

They issued what are now said to be the historic `Denver Principles' which laid out the widely-recognised ideas of consumer self-empowerment, a movement that changed the way he world thought about people living with the virus.

According to Stines, the association strives to reflect the diverse face of AIDS in the hiring of staff and in the recruitment of members or their volunteer board of directors. It was stated that over half of their staff are people of colour and the majority of staff members are people living with HIV.

The board of directors is equally diverse, providing representation of the many communities impacted by the epidemic. The vast majority of the board members are HIV positive.

The local body, which is a non-governmental organisation established in 1997, states that its mission is to enable persons living with and affected by HIV/AIDS to empower themselves and sustain their quality of life through mutual support and collective action.

G+ states that it mobilises people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS; involving them in addressing their psychological, social, health and spiritual needs. Its membership comprises persons infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS.