Intensify the AIDS' fight
Kaieteur News
December 5, 2006

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The annual World AIDS Day observances have passed, but the drive to eliminate the disease continues. In Guyana , it is even more imperative that the fight against HIV and AIDS be continued with even greater intensity.

Ever since the society recognised that AIDS was not a homosexual disease and that it was spreading fast among the female population, there was the fear that the population would be decimated because of the rampant poverty in the society. International observers and specialists established a clear link between AIDS and poverty, and in this society, there were the affluent few who sought to capitalise on the less fortunate.

From the days when men outstripped women as far as the infection rate was concerned, today the infection rate is about the same for both sexes, and changing to the point where, in another few years, more women are likely to be infected than men.

Until recently, the national campaign was about having young people either abstain or use a condom. There was no educational programme, because many parents were objecting to their children being exposed to sex education in schools, and others simply could not talk to their children about sex.

At the same time, many adults were not sure about the disease, and misconceptions prevailed. With these misconceptions came stigma and discrimination. Infected women who gave birth tried their best to ensure that their children avoided the stigma. They had the children tested, and they were among the first to publicise the results once those results were favourable.

Today, Guyana is said to be among the forerunners in the prevention of transmission between mother and child; it is also in the lead in the fight against stigma and discrimination.

All that is good, but even more needs to be done. We know that we have parents who are incapable of educating their children. The few who do are in the minority, and even then, their children are exposed to peer pressure. How many times have we not seen hordes of school children behaving inappropriately at the end of the school term?

These are the children who at one time rode minibuses instead of going to school; and because they needed money to match others of their peers, they did things that would stun even the most hardened adults.

And despite all the talk about appropriate behaviour, we still have a large number of pregnant teenagers, many of them school dropouts. Every pregnant woman is a potential HIV candidate, given that she is testimony to someone who has had unprotected sex.

The message is that people should all be tested before they engage in risky behaviour. Married people are expected to have unprotected sex, but with the society hardly paying any critical attention to unfaithful behaviour, more and more husbands and wives take trips outside of the home.

Just this past week, we had the case of the policeman who killed a married woman with whom he shared a liaison, because her husband happened to reside overseas. The community must have been aware of the relationship, but hardly anyone pointed an accusing finger.

This incident is not isolated, and many are the couples who happened to become infected, and consequently passed on the infection to the unsuspecting partner. Husbands have been responsible for the deaths of wives in most of the cases.

Dr Henry Jeffrey, during his tenure as Health Minister, once said that trying to get people to change their behaviour patterns when it comes to sex is like trying to get people to stop smoking. It is physiological, he said.

That is why the focus should be on a broad-based programme that involves everyone. We should make use of those who are infected.

They have stories to tell. We should also arrange tours to those locations where the infected are living their last. The graphic images could impact on those who are reluctant to behave appropriately.