Food bank soon for people living with HIV/AIDS World AIDS Day 2006
By Neil Marks
Guyana Chronicle
November 30, 2006

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DR. SHANTI Singh glows with satisfaction at Guyana’s programme to assist People Living With HIV/AIDS (PLWHA’s), and she has reason to.

As the world prepares to mark World AIDS Day, she is satisfied that all those who have been tested positive for the disease in Guyana and have come forward to get help, are receiving more than just Anti-Retroviral Drugs (ARV’s)

Dr. Singh heads the National Aids Programme Secretariat and said two new initiatives are coming on stream that will greatly benefit PLWHA’s.

The first is setting up a food bank. She said when a person tests positive for HIV, their clinic or hospital might recognise the need for improved nutritional intake, but the patient might be unable to afford it.

Through a partnership with the private sector and Non-Governmental Organisations that work with PLWHA’s, these persons would be able to benefit from a regular supply of rations they need from January next year. .

In a recent interview, Singh stressed that the PLWHA’s to benefit from the programme would be selected based on a strict criterion, taking into consideration especially their financial circumstance. Also, she said, once the person’s circumstances change and they are able to afford their own food supplies, they would be taken off the programme.

The other innovative programme is to offer PLWHA’s financial aid through a voucher system, much as that used by the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security. She said a strict criterion will also be used to determine who benefits from the assistance and when it is discontinued.

According to Singh, these initiatives are intended to boost the care and support programme for PLWHA’s.

There are several initiatives that reach out to such persons.

Singh said once a person is diagnosed with HIV at one of the Voluntary Counsel and Testing (VCT) sites, “we take charge.”

A person who tests positive for HIV, she explained, might not need ARV’s immediately, so they are taken on board in the “care” programme, wherein they are continually counselled and given advice on how to maintain their health.

If they need assistance of any sort, they are referred to various institutions.

When it is time for them to go on ARV’s, they are provided the drugs free of charge. The country currently has 10 treatment sites. However, there is no such site in Regions One (Barima/Waini), Seven (Cuyuni/Mazaruni), Eight (Potaro/Siparuni) and Nine (Upper Takutu/Upper Essequibo).

Singh said a mobile unit visits these regions and travels to various areas every month so those who need the ARV treatment do not have to travel far to get it.

A unit spends as much as one week each month to ensure as much coverage as possible, she said.

In addition, Singh said four support groups have been formed with PLWHA’s and conduct regular sessions, talking about various topics, including compliance with the requirements for taking the ARV’s and maintaining a healthy diet.

Such support groups, she reported, exist at four health institutions, but others are encouraged to come forward. Those who form part of the support groups are given a transportation allowance and meals whenever they have a meeting, she said.

Singh noted that the women (she said men have not been coming out) provide emotional support to each other.

“It’s not easy to walk around with a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS even in this day of free treatment and the support programme that exists,” she added.

The NAPS is also facilitating skills training for PLWHA’s. At one centre, the women are being taught floral design, while at another they are being taught floral and fabric design.

According to Singh, the transportation and meals are provided for the women in the programme and once they complete the training, the tools they use are given to them.

Further, Liana Cane, manufacturers of world class furniture, is also training PLWHA’s. Once they complete their training, they would be given assistance to set up their own businesses.

Assistance is also being provided to orphans and vulnerable children and Singh said four orphanages are being upgraded to meet certain minimum requirements.

“The improvements have to do with getting proper mattresses and beds, cleaning up the kitchens, make a convenient play area,” she explained.

While the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security provides uniforms for those who need assistance, Singh said she wants to do more, and as such, children might soon be able to benefit from “socks and shoes, school bags” and other necessary items.

(This is the fifth in a series of articles being published ahead of World AIDS Day, 2006, which would be observed tomorrow. We close off the series tomorrow with Minister of Health Dr. Leslie Ramsammy on Guyana’s successes in fighting the disease.)