The Presidential Commission on HIV/AIDS
Kaieteur News

June 9, 2004

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If all goes well, the establishment of the Presidential Commission on HIV/AIDS on June 2 could be a breakthrough that results in a more comprehensive, coordinated national strategy against the dreaded disease.

The fact that the President himself will chair the Commission is testimony to the seriousness with which Guyana regards the HIV/AIDS epidemic. There is no doubt that the fight against the disease is not merely a health problem but a serious national development problem as well.

The Commission seems to be sufficiently high- powered. It includes several Ministers of Government, senior health sector officials as well as representatives of funding agencies.

The work of the Commission is equally impressive. It will register, provide funding and coordinate the activities of non-governmental organisations involved in work against HIV/AIDS. It will also implement, supervise and support the activities of government agencies working in this area and also implement the National Strategic Plan for HIV/AIDS 2002 to 2006.

On paper, the Commission seems well equipped to make telling impact on the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The only problem is that in the recent past, commissions and committees of similar size and scope have delivered somewhat less than the nation expected. Think of the troubles that afflicted the much vaunted Ethnic Relations and Constitutional Reform Commissions. Big commissions tend to breed big bureaucracy. Letís hope that this Commission can avoid this problem and streamline its activities for maximum effect.|

The committee will have its work cut out. These days, there is a wealth of detailed information on HIV/AIDS and this readily available to the public. With this knowledge in circulation, it is troubling that thousands of young Guyanese continue to indulge in behaviour that they know very well gives them a good chance to pick up the virus. They have no excuse but there must be a reason.

Many persons believe it is because national strategies to contain HIV/AIDS do not adequately target the root of this irresponsible behaviour. Such persons trace the roots to a moral and spiritual crisis they think afflict Guyanese. They contend that unless young Guyanese upgrade their moral and spiritual values, the toll of the disease will not go down.

Experts are unanimous in their recommendations that a lifestyle change by sexually active persons is the best way to keep the spread of HIV/AIDS in check. It follows that the primary task of the Commission would be to promote wholesome values and produce Guyanese citizens who make moral decisions and act on a moral basis. It stands to reason that such citizens will be unlikely to become HIV/AIDS victims.

The problem is that in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural society like Guyana, formulating a blanket concept of moral and spiritual values for all social groups will be extremely difficult. Moreover, Guyana is notoriously deficient in role models who exude the moral and spiritual values needed to influence lifestyle changes to stop the spread of the disease.

Many socially prominent persons who ought to be role models tend to be visibly lacking in moral and spiritual values and are often in need of guidance in this area themselves.

Many are in the age groups with the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS victims and indulge in the type of irresponsible behaviour that feeds the spread of the virus.

However, certain core moral and spiritual values are common to the major religions of Guyana. Perhaps the Commission could look at a moral and spiritual revival in tandem with the religious community.

Despite the monumental task ahead, the Presidential Commission on HIV/AIDS gives an opportunity for a holistic approach to fighting the disease. It is ideally placed to stimulate government and community action to influence the desperately needed lifestyle changes that will reduce the impact of the virus on Guyana.