The HIV/AIDS dilemma
January 24, 2007
Guyana has been touted for its policy regarding HIV and AIDS to the extent that some countries in the Caribbean are borrowing some of the measures that this country has adopted.
And at this time when the focus is on the removal of stigma and discrimination there is a lot that Guyana is doing to help those afflicted by this disease. Yet there is something that is worrying. By fighting stigma and discrimination, though, the society has placed a high premium on secrecy of an individual's status.
A report by the Ministry of Health released through the Government Information Agency (GINA) stated that for last year 11,000 gained access to the anti-retroviral drugs. This alone tells us that there are 11,000 Guyanese with the virus.
It goes without saying that while the society appears to be paying less and less attention to the disease the numbers are growing. This growth has been attributed to a number of factors, not least among them, poverty. It has long been accepted that in societies where poverty is endemic a number of social ills surface, much to the detriment of the society.
Some sociologists contend that to successfully fight HIV/AIDS a country needs to promote a programme of behavioral changes and at the same time address the economic situation of the poor. Guyana has been promoting behavioral changes largely through peer groups and counseling programmes involving young people.
Many of these programmes are conducted by non-governmental organisations because parents have all objected to the introduction of sex education in schools. One would have expected that parents would have been among the first to have their children acquire knowledge about their sexuality in professional circumstances.
Visible changes in certain behaviours take time and tangible proof of these changes would have been reflected in a decline in the cases of HIV/AIDS. And it has been two years since Guyana began promoting behavioral changes as part of the HIV/AIDS fight. Surely, it might be too early for one to conclude the extent of behavioral change if any despite the apparent rise in the number of cases of AIDS.
The fact that 11,000 people have to be put on the ARV drugs is a clear cut indication that they have crossed the AIDS threshold. Their viral load has increased. The figure is also an indication of the number of people with HIV. Some statistics suggest that for every AIDS case there are four people with HIV.
This is indeed alarming and it highlights the extent to which the disease has permeated the society. We know that many of the suicides could be attributed to the disease. Many people fail to handle their status and take their own lives because of fear of embarrassment.
It may not be that there is no halt to the rate of infection. Perhaps these cases were there all along and it is only now that the victims are being tested. And more people are coming forward to be tested. Yesterday Health Minister Dr. Leslie Ramsammy spoke of the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission Programme and concluded that the campaign is successful.
Since testing is voluntary many pregnant women who go to the clinics in their areas seem to have no reservation about being tested and indeed a small percentage of them are found to be HIV-positive. However, the structure of the programme is such that the information is confidential.
The success of this programme rests in the tests. The samples are sent away from the area and the results are only made known to the mother.
One should not be surprised that expectant mothers are found to have the virus. Given the numbers that are presenting themselves, one can conclude that the disease is widespread. The susceptibility of the womenfolk makes the spread possible.
Officially, the statistics suggest that four per cent of the population is infected although the Health Ministry says that the figure is much lower. But the report coming out of the Government Information Agency, if accurate, suggests that the crisis is worse than believed.