Faith healers stymie HIV treatment programme - forum hears
Stabroek News
November 19, 2006

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Some religious leaders continue to create major problems for the HIV/AIDS treatment programme by encouraging persons to refuse the treatment, Head of the Genito-Urinary Medicine (GUM) Clinic, Dr Jagnauth Ragnauth has said.

Dr Ragnauth, a religious believer himself, said what the patients should be told is that God gives them the strength and wisdom to take their medication. But instead they are told they have been healed when there is no cure for HIV. The doctor gave the example of a woman who was on treatment and was doing "very" well since her CD4 count was up to 500 and he had not see her for six months.

"She came to the clinic in a wheelchair paralysed from the waist down and her CD4 was just about 100. She had stopped taking the medication because a church leader told her she was healed. That thing really hurt meā€¦" the doctor said on Thursday.

At the time he was part of a panel discussion organised by the National AIDS Committee (NAC) convened at the National Methodist Outreach building located on High Street.

The doctor noted that people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHAS) are in actual fact discriminating against themselves when they refuse to take the medication that they require. He also disclosed that there is a serious problem with adherence among patients and warned that when patients do not take the drug as prescribed they not only develop a resistance to the drug but their body also produces a resistant virus and should they infect someone with that virus that person would be "doomed." He also encouraged HIV/AIDS infected persons to inform their partners when they are infected so as not to propagate the spread of the virus.

Jean La Rose of the Amerindian Peoples Association, which does not work in the area of HIV/AIDS, said she has observed that the awareness programmes and workshops have not been structured for Amerindians. She noted that in many areas English was not the first language, pointing out that people tended to be more articulate in the language they use every day and as such some of them would not be able to respond the way they should. Another problem is the distance of the communities and the high cost attached to reaching them; according to her 75% of the committees are not reached by the messages.

La Rose also said that handing out condoms would not find favour in many Amerindian areas because it would be viewed as encouraging promiscuity among youths. She said because the areas were not properly sensitised, dealing with the disease would continue to be a problem. She said she was told by someone in a community in Region Seven that they would banish infected persons from the village. La Rose also touched on the treatment for infected persons, which when finished in some communities took a while to be replenished.

Dr Ragnauth said the Ministry of Health has been doing more in the indigenous areas and they have been working along with Ministry of Amerindian Affairs. He said a physician has been visiting those areas along with counsellors and they have been counselling and testing persons and giving them their results; when samples have to be brought to Georgetown, the results would be radioed into the health worker in the area.

Programme Coordinator of the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA), Merle Mendonca said from the reading she has done of the new National Strategic Plan, set for 2007 to 2010, there was little in it for indigenous people; as it focuses more on miners than Amerindians.

Mendonca noted that women and girls were more vulnerable to contracting HIV. According to her 75% of the HIV infection occurs through heterosexual relations and girls and women were the least able to negotiate protection during sexual intercourse. She said it was unfortunate that there is no official data on the infection rate among young girls and women in the areas of their work places, schools, indigenous women and those who are incarcerated among others. She said that in the 15-19 years age group, the infection rate surpassed that of men in the Caribbean and in Guyana the infection rate among women and girls was two times more than men.

According to Mendonca, 90% of the sexual abuse cases were not reported and she suggested that women and young girls be placed in the high risk group; further women must be represented at the highest forum of HIV/AIDS policy discussions. Mendonca also called on police officers to change their attitudes with regard to sexual offences.

Another panel discussion would be held next week Thursday.