Tony Vieira's Comments
18 October 2017

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AIDS
(Aired 28 February 2003)

   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 increasing.

   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.

  1. 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 alone.
  2. 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.
  3. Establish a legal environment for them to fight discrimination.
  4. Enable people to challenge discrimination through national institutions.
  5. 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.