Historic conference for Persons Living with HIV/AIDS underway

Kaieteur News
May 4, 2007

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History was created in the local health sector, yesterday, when some sixty Persons Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHAs), from across the country, gathered at the Regency Suites in Georgetown for a national conference.

The two-day forum, which is being facilitated through the collaboration of the Health Ministry, the National AIDS Programme Secretariat (NAPS) and the Network of Guyanese Living with HIV/AIDS, has, among other aims, to examine the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of the programme catering to PLWHAs.

In addition, issues of adherence, disclosure and what it means to be living with the disease in terms of care and preventing re-infection will also be addressed.

According to Head of NAPS, Dr. Shanti Singh, the role and responsibilities of PLWHAs in the fight will be reiterated, after which it is anticipated that the participants will recommit themselves to the battle.

Giving an overview, she said that the programme was initiated nine months ago when a Support Group Coordinator was recruited at NAPS.

Since then, the concept of the support group at the treatment sites became a reality and took on a life of its own.

Support groups have been formed at the GUM Clinic, New Amsterdam Family Clinic, West Demerara Hospital, Campbellville Health Centre, and the Skeldon and Linden Hospitals, with an overall membership of more than 300 persons.

The participants for the ongoing two-day conference were drawn from these groups.

These groups meet on a monthly basis and, through this forum, many PLWHAs have benefited from educational sessions dealing with varied issues of their interest.

Commenting on the successes of the support groups, Singh said more than 50 persons from the GUM Clinic and West Demerara Support groups completed skills based training. A special training was also conducted for those inclined to be trained as peer educators and on advocacy and human rights. Those trained as peer educators are often recruited on a part-time basis by the programme to conduct interpersonal communications at outreach activities.

As recent as last week, persons received training in home-based care and have indicated their willingness in volunteering in the home-based programme.

Some persons are recruited full-time in the programme to contribute in critical areas of the treatment programme, such as adherence counseling and disclosure counseling, among others.

More importantly, in addition to these apparent and noticeable outcomes, the support groups resulted in the feeling of being a part of one big family, looking out for, giving to and supporting each other.

“It provided a nonjudgmental platform for persons living with HIV to address common issues,” Singh said.

She added that support groups also serve as an invaluable mechanism for feedback on the quality of care and services provided by the respective caregivers and institutions. This is critical, she noted, adding that the feedbacks have been taken seriously with concerted efforts made to address the many areas of need.

According to Dr. Singh, another expected outcome of the seminar is that strong recommendations will be made on the greater involvement of PLWHAs in the national response, particularly at the level of decision-making.

She noted that although this is in place, it needs to be strengthened.

“Many persons living with HIV are sitting on committees making key decisions. Many argue that this may not be enough; nevertheless, there are representatives sitting on various national steering committees such as the treatment and care, home-based care and technical committees…many persons behind the scenes continue to contribute in substantial ways, and I sincerely hope that we will in the near future see the day when these persons will contribute openly for there will be no fear of stigma and discrimination. I look at today's activity as a positive step in that direction,” she said.

Acknowledging Government's responsibility in providing care, Singh said this is being carried out effectively through the many comprehensive programmes implemented to date.

This includes ARVs, Home-Based Care and Social Support programmes, as well as economic and nutritional support.

She, however, called on the participants to take their responsibility seriously.

“I urge you to go deep down and ask yourselves some tough questions and try to answer some of those questions. Think of your responsibility of living longer and healthier lives, living a full life…bringing on board good care practices, proper adherence to medications, good nutrition, and thus ultimately contributing to your families, communities and to the country. Your responsibility is to your families. In fighting the epidemic, think of your responsibility in preventing new infections, whether it means disclosure with the risk of losing a close one, or serious behaviour modifications. Think of your role in breaking the barriers of stigma and discrimination,” Singh said.