On the 24th February 2003 on the
news I noted that two United States senators were in Guyana getting a first hand look at our HIV/AIDS situation. To do this
they were photographed touring the Georgetown Hospital.
I decided to look in to this matter of HIV/AIDS
and tonight I want to discharge my public responsibility of telling you about
it, and ask if we are winning the fight against this dreadful disease.
Aids surfaced as a disease in 1981 when
the first patient was discovered with a disease in the US, that had destroyed his entire immune system. In the 22 years since
then it has become, not only an epidemic [a disease that attacks great numbers
in one place at one time] but a pandemic which is an epidemic that is prevalent
in numerous areas around the globe, aids has gotten completely out of control.
There are 42 million people living with
aids today, the amount that is actually infected with the human
immunodeficiency virus, the virus that causes aids, may be much, much higher.
In the next 8 years 45 million more people will be infected with it, more than
40% of them will be from Asia
and the Pacific.
Aids has devastated Africa, the highest
incidence of the disease on the planet, more than 30 % of the entire population
occur in nearly 6 African states, it was not believed that the disease can
reach such a high level of infection in single communities. What is troubling
is that Asia now has the fastest
rising incidence of the disease especially China and India; these
two countries are the most populous countries of the planet with over 1¼
billion people in China and 1
billion people in India. In
these countries even though they record low overall infections as a percentage
of total population, it results in enormous numbers infected, nearly 4 million
in India and over 1.5 million in China but it is the incidence of new
infections that is alarming in China and India.
Most of Africa now fully aware of the effects of the disease have implemented
strategies and programmes which are actually working and the levels of new
infections are being reduced significantly. Whilst in China and India it is
In 2002, 3.1 million people died from
this disease worldwide, apart for the usual sexual method of transmission, people
in prisons worldwide have been recorded with high levels of HIV, as high as 26%
which they spread to the common population when they are released from prison,
the use of heroin has increased four fold in the past 10 years and it is
estimated that 46% of people who use needle delivered heroin are infected with
the virus which they pass on to their sexual partners. The highest incidence of
HIV is among homosexual men and female sexual workers, in some studies done by
the World Health Organisation homosexual men engage in unprotected sex with
many females thereby spreading the virus to the female population, the gap
between men and women who have aids is narrowing rapidly, there was a time
several years ago when the amount of males affected by the disease were
substantially higher than in females, but this is changing.
HIV/AIDS is prevalent in depressed
communities where desperation takes hold and communities are wrenched apart.
The Caribbean is the second most affected
area in the world after Africa, the two countries with the highest incidence of
HIV/AIDS is Haiti and Guyana two of the poorest nations in the hemisphere,
Haiti may have as much as 6.1% of it population affected and Guyana may have just
over 3%, there are 15,000 people in this country living with this deadly virus.
The people most affected are the poorer
inhabitants of the planet and their biggest problem is not just the disease
itself but the stigma and discrimination associated with the disease. The
stigma and discrimination associated with infection of aids can subject these
already marginalised poor people to even greater human rights violations. It
makes what they are going through a living hell. This is not a person with
cancer who obtains the sympathy of all for his affliction, this is a person
perceived by all to be death walking around in human form and they are shunned,
marginalised and discriminated against in its most virulent manner.
In this country we have started the fight
against HIV/AIDS by introducing the condom vending machines, and there are some
really gross television advertisements being aired daily on the way to access
these machines. But the fundamental work to help to address the problems of
those infected with the disease has not started.
- We must begin to encourage the leaders of
all communities to attack aids related discrimination, vocally and publicly.
It is their civic responsibility to do this for the sake of humanity
- Involve people living with aids to be
part of the AD campaigns in response to the epidemic. Instead of two punks
discussing where they will get their condoms from before picking up "them
gals" we should get a few people who are actually infected to tell their
horror story to the public in proper advertising/information campaign about
the discrimination, the marginalisation and the stigma associated with the
disease. Not to mention the total physical destruction of the person
affected by it.
- Establish a legal environment for them to
- Enable people to challenge discrimination
through national institutions.
- Ensuring that prevention, treatment, care
and support services are available to all.
These, the World Health Organisation
[WHO] tell us, are not unreasonable demands, these are not the demands of dogs
living in the street, these are the demands of human beings like us living
under a sentence of death, who know that they are under a sentence of death.
But because of this affliction they are treated like dogs by the rest of us
until they die like one.
At our 3% level of infection and
rising, within 2 years someone close to you will contract this deadly virus,
within ten years all of us would have had one of your family members become
affected or die from HIV/AIDS, we will all be affected by it, not the virus
itself, but the stigma and the discrimination that is associated with it.
So tonight let us resolve to look at
this situation from the humanitarian aspect of it, let us resolve to establish
counselling for those affected by the disease and let us begin a proper
campaign to tell our young people of the disastrous path they are now
travelling, aids is best contained by using safe methods of sex, of using clean
needles if you are a drug user and in having safe sex with one partner who is
not affected, this is by far the best way to prevent the spread of this
disease, too many of our young people are totally oblivious to the dangers of
having unprotected sex with multiple partners and I am talking about the 14-18
age group here, show them a few 14-18 year olds who are affected and let it be
explicit enough so that they get the message. This is a deadly disease but I am
not convinced that any of our teenagers understand the danger and the
consequences of all of the aspects of HIV/AIDS, so show them. To do this I am
offering one hour of programming time per week at no cost, on VCT 28, to
educate the public on the dangers and consequences of this disease and I
ask the other stations to do likewise.