Fight against HIV/AIDS…
Risky practices, nonchalance present major challenges

Kaieteur News
February 20, 2007

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While there has been an improvement, Guyana 's population remains at a significant risk for HIV/AIDS because of certain behavioural and attitudinal patterns.

This is the finding of a recently completed behaviour surveillance survey and an AIDS Indicator Survey.

The documents reveal that the behaviour and characteristics employed by the population towards the pandemic remain major challenges in the prevention and management of HIV/AIDS in Guyana .

It is therefore imperative that programs to effect behavioural change become an integral part of the response to the disease.

In support of this finding, the National HIV/AIDS Strategy for 2007-2011 states that there is still too wide a gap in comprehensive methods of prevention of HIV among the population, especially among young people.

The recently released document states that there are between 14% and 38% of in- and out-of-school youths who lack a comprehensive knowledge of the methods of prevention of HIV. It showed that males have less knowledge of the prevention methods than females.

More than 50% of the rural population, 30% of the commercial sex workers (CSW) and 15% of the uniformed services lack this knowledge, the study found.

Risky sexual practices also constitute a major challenge in Guyana 's prevention efforts.

The document noted that the sexual experience and attitudes of young people and of some vulnerable groups, especially in the debut age of sex; the involvement in pre-marital sex; number of sex partners; involvement with CSWs, and the non- use of condoms, place the population at great risk for HIV infection.

A good example, the document pointed out, is to look at the uniformed services personnel, a group considered to be ‘at-risk'. Condom use by uniformed personnel with non-regular partners is only 48% of the time.

Meanwhile, the mortality pattern in Guyana demonstrates that the burden is greatest in the 20-45-year age group.

This is the economically active group in the country, which is expected to make significant contributions to the state economy.

The study clearly demonstrates that whilst knowledge is high amongst all professional groups in the armed forces, as well as teachers and others, little behaviour change has resulted.

“Whilst the prevalence of HIV/AIDS is not known in these groups, the lack of behavioural change and expressed risky behaviour amongst these groups, in an environment where the morality is high in the economically active age group, clearly indicates the impact that HIV/AIDS can have on Guyana,” the document states.

It pointed out that the social burden is already present from HIV/AIDS.

A recent study addressing the needs of orphans and vulnerable children conducted in 2004 estimated that there are at least 7,000 orphans and vulnerable children in Guyana . This number does not necessarily relate only to children who are orphaned as a result of HIV/AIDS, but due to other reasons.

It is expected that if the epidemic is not controlled, the number will significantly increase as more children become orphaned by HIV/AIDS, or are more vulnerable, as parents who are ill from the disease become increasingly unable to support their children.

The study clearly demonstrates that, of the children surveyed, many are in urgent need of social support as they are looked after by relatives who are unable to provide the care which is needed to give them an opportunity in life.

The establishment of mechanisms to address these issues poses a significant burden on the social support systems, the report notes.

It adds that the cost of providing social safety nets to vulnerable groups, loss of economy and the costs of provision of health services will be significant.

Thus, unless the epidemic is reversed, morbidity and mortality associated with the HIV/AIDS will significantly impact on the economy, the national demography, and the national health system.