Kaieteur News signs on to HIV/AIDS fight
By Melanie Allicock
Kaieteur News
March 11, 2007

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Kaieteur News has broken new ground in the local media fraternity by becoming the first media outfit to partner the USAID/Guyana HIV/AIDS Reduction and Prevention Project (GHARP) in its private sector partnership programme which aims at confronting the challenges of HIV/AIDS.

This newspaper was one of 22 entities that formalised this arrangement last Friday evening by signing a Memorandum of Cooperation when the Health Ministry and GHARP held their Private Sector Advisory Board HIV/AIDS Awards and signing event at the Umana Yana.

This brings to 43, the number of private sector entities that have signed on to the programme since last year. This latest group of partners represents a diverse spectrum of organisations and their distributors.

They are AH&L Kissoon Ltd, Banks DIH Ltd, Demerara Distillers Ltd, John Fernandes Ltd, Guyana Trades Union Congress, National Milling Co, Abdools & Abdools Insurance, Guy America Furniture Store, Guyana Rice Development Board, National Media and Publishing Company (Kaieteur News), CARICOM Rice Mills, Woodlands Hospital, Guyana Gold & Diamond Miners' Association, Liana Cane Interior Ltd, Restoration Assembly of God, Rupununi Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Lethem, Region Nine ,North American Resources Inc. Ltd, Town Clerk ,Mayor & City Council, Beharry Group of Companies, Guyana Revenue Authority, and Ram & McRae, Charted Accountants.

Publisher of Kaieteur News, Glenn Lall, made a public show of his commitment to enhancing and improving the local response to HIV/AIDS by signing on behalf of the company.

As a USAID/GHARP partner, Kaieteur News has committed to helping protect employees in the workplace through a variety of education and training initiatives designed to prevent and reduce HIV/AIDS.

The company has also committed to initiating workplace training, development of an HIV/AIDS Corporate Policy and sponsorship of public and media events among other things.

Lall noted that his decision to become more actively involved in the battle is in acknowledgment of the potential of the media in creating widespread awareness on HIV/AIDS, to promote positive attitudes towards people living with the virus, and influencing people to change high risk behaviour that makes them vulnerable to the infection.

“The media have a pivotal role to play in the fight against AIDS. It is a well known saying that “education is the vaccine against AIDS,” Lall said.

He pointed out that since the world is working to combat a disastrous and growing emergency, the tool at everyone's disposal should be used.

HIV/AIDS is the worst epidemic humanity has ever faced, he noted, adding that it has spread further faster and with more catastrophic long term effects than any other disease. Its impact has become a devastating obstacle to development.

“The media have tremendous reach and influence, particularly with young people, who represent the future and who are the key to any successful fight against HIV/AIDS. We must seek to engage these youths and educate them in an interesting manner.”

Lall stressed that the media represent one of the instrumentalities which facilitate and gives a directional thrust to the efforts to cure the disease if not to treat it.

“If medicine can treat HIV/AIDS, then the media are capable of preventing it with an ultimate goal to cure it through its capabilities to impart education and awareness.”

He also noted that besides creating awareness and providing a knowledge base about HIV/AIDS, the media's role is also to remove the misconceptions about the transmission of the virus and the social ostracism of affected persons. Lack of information leads to denial and rejection of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) at personal and societal levels, he said.

In such a process, Lall noted the media have the potential to influence public opinion and attitudes about HIV/AIDS, including attitudes towards people living with HIV/AIDS.

“When the media focus on a particular issue, there is a higher degree of public awareness and support to tackle that issue. Attitudes affect how people respond to HIV/AIDS and how PLWHA are treated or cared for by their peers, employers, families, communities, the health care system and the justice dispensing system. We have the capability to bring about transformation in the thinking pattern of the society in respect of PLWHA thus sowing the seeds of attitudinal changes.

The media can be a great facilitator for preventing the process while imparting the need for a healthy behaviour towards the section of the society and those individuals most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and those individuals affected by it.”

The Publisher also believes that in combating HIV/AIDS, the media need to be extra cautious while reporting and there is an urgent need for the media to change the way it reports on HIV/AIDS.

He added that he has committed his media house to play an important and determining role in educating the public, creating awareness among them and transmitting crucial information so that people will become aware, remain alert and take measures to prevent its occurrence.

“We all know that information is power, and that awareness therefore empowers.”

Noting that HIV/AIDS education sessions will be undertaken within Kaieteur News, Lall said that the media has enormous potential to undertake the challenge of fighting with AIDS, but to perform its responsibility with utmost efficiency requires the clear understanding of the challenge and the obstacles to spread the education about AIDS.

According to UNAIDS and the World Health Organization, as many as two-thirds of new HIV infections projected to occur globally by 2010 could be averted with more effective prevention and public education efforts.

A UNAIDS report stresses that the most practical and fastest way in which one can change any phenomenon is through media.

During the last year and half, USAID/GHARP in partnership with the Ministry of Health and the International Labour Organisation has helped to engage 22 private sector partners in workplace programmes ranging from prevention training, workplace development and implementation, peer education and in-house prevention education activities.

These efforts have reached an estimated 12,000 workers and their families in Guyana and much work has been supported by partner Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) as well as the USAID/GHARP staff.

Some of the companies have also offered support for Orphans and Vulnerable Children as well as a range of media and community events and programmes, including micro loans for those living with HIV/AIDS to help build their entrepreneurial skills.

Director, Technical Services Unit USAID/GHARP, Dr Jomo Osborne said a special effort was made in the selection of the new partners to focus on conglomerates and umbrella organisations.

He estimates that an additional 10,000 workers will be reached in the coming year through this new collaboration, exclusive of their direct family circle.

He added that what makes the commitment of the new partners special is that in addition to helping to protect their own workers from HIV/AIDS, instituting workplace policies that honour and protect workers rights, and linking them to Voluntary Counseling and Testing, many of the organizations have made a commitment of going beyond their communities.

“Some will do this by sponsoring events and committed to going beyond their workplaces and into their communities. Others will do this by sponsoring events and community awareness activities while others do this by providing their products and services to help those infected and affected.”

NGOs, community leaders and individual care providers also make up make up a crucial web in all of the private sector programmes.

Supporting the entire effort has been the USAID/GHARP Private Sector Advisory Board. Established nearly a year ago by a committed group of Chief Executive Officers and industry leaders, the group has grown into one of the most robust coalitions within the Caribbean.

In the next few months, this group will be recognized as the Guyana Business Coalition on HV/AIDS which will embrace a wider cadre of other public/private sector partners, including those that work with the ILO, the CDC, as well as organizations that have natural ties such as the Private Sector Commission, Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security; PANCAP; UNAIDS, and other donor and stakeholder organizations involved in private sector and workplace activities.

He expressed the hope that the coalition will become a self-governed, self-sustainable organisation and will serve to organize and coordinate the private sectors' response to HIV/AIDS in the years ahead.

It is hoped that the group will become an active and prominent member of the Pan Caribbean Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS and the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS.