Full Disclosure
December 7, 2007
Observing World Aids Day in SVG

I cannot begin to imagine the pains which we will all become entitled to, in the period of this epidemic. My experience in reaching out to those inflicted informs me that we are all one family in the fight to survive. It is clear now to me that sooner than later, the fact of having a friend or family member living with HIV is a test that we will all have to endure. This is inevitable. The occasion of witnessing the journey of someone inflicted gives you a greater sense of appreciation of the magnitude of our circumstances.{{more}} The task ahead is achievable, but will not be possible if single-handedly approached by our caregivers, scientists, government or the church. There is need for a properly formulated, integrated and sustained effort. Are we winning this fight? AIDS is serious business.

There is a moral and spiritual component to prevention. Today, our society is witnessing a breakdown between sexuality and spirituality. Our morality is in dire need of repair. Intimacy is a part of a sacred covenant, and our level of sanctity is thrown into a state of disequilibrium whenever the secrecy of this covenant is breached. There is still a silence surrounding many of our virtues, but we cannot avoid the fact that abstinence is the safest way forward.

Treating the over 40 million confirmed persons living with the virus today is a mammoth task. However, treating the minds of those who remain is also simply just as hard. In our fight, there must be a renewed emphasis on education. Are we really taking heed? We are generally a people convinced to change through fear. However, in this situation, we must act out of a sense of consciousness and not allow ourselves to become responders only to the sensitivities of trepidation. In many instances, we have examples to show that we can become too fearful a bit too late.

December 1 every year marks a new commitment by the world in the fight against HIV and AIDS. This year, the theme is “Leadership”, re-emphasizing the need for all of us to take a leadership role in the fight against this epidemic. World AIDS Day 2007 continues a tradition that started in 1988. The World Health Organization (WHO) established World AIDS Day to provide governments, national AIDS programs, faith organizations, community groups and individuals with an opportunity to raise awareness and focus attention on the global AIDS epidemic. How many of us really gave any attention to World AIDS day? To many it was just another day.

Around the globe, of the over 40 million people living with HIV, nearly five million of these persons were infected in 2005. In 2005, Eastern Europe and Central Asia showed a steep increase with a 25 percent rise in new infections to 1.6 million people living with the virus. Widespread gender inequalities, including political, economic, social and cultural factors, exacerbate the vulnerability of women and girls to the infection. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the statistics reveal that where sixty-four percent of all new infections occurred in 2005, young women between 15 and 24 years are now at least three times more likely to be HIV-positive than young men. In many countries, marriage and women’s own fidelity are not enough to protect them. Sometimes the information makes me wonder what our future would be like.

It is often said that silence is not always golden, and in the Caribbean, it has been a major factor that has allowed HIV/AIDS to spread so widely that, after sub-Saharan Africa, it is one of the regions of the world where the disease has hit the hardest.

At the end of 2007, an estimated 230,000 persons were living with HIV and AIDS in the Caribbean. Some 17,000 were newly infected during 2007, and there were 11,000 deaths due to AIDS. The story becomes more frightening when one realises that all these figures only speak to reported cases.

In some Caribbean islands, the statistics reveal that more than 2% of the adult population is living with HIV. Higher prevalence rates are found only in sub-Saharan Africa, making the Caribbean the second-most affected region in the world. AIDS is now one of the leading causes of death in some of our islands, with Haiti being one of the worst affected. An estimated 16,000 lives are lost each year to AIDS in Haiti, and tens of thousands of children have been orphaned by the epidemic.

The predominant route of HIV transmission in the Caribbean is heterosexual contact. Much of this transmission is associated with commercial sex. Cultural and behavioural patterns such as early initiation of sexual acts, and taboos related to sex and sexuality, gender inequalities, lack of confidentiality, stigmatization and economic need are some of the factors influencing vulnerability to HIV and AIDS in the Caribbean.

Treatment can be provided, but prevention is clearly what we should be seeking. We cannot in anyway afford to be complacent. There is vacancy for a renewed partnership between all stakeholders.

If we are to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of halting and beginning to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015, then individuals, communities and institutions must support each other. To stay healthy and get needed services, people must be knowledgeable about AIDS. The majority of our population is comprised of youth. The role to be assumed by us will have an invaluable impact on both the macro and micro societal issues which today are arresting national attention.

The task ahead is great but as I usually emphasise, that the greater the challenges, the harder we must work, the greater the challenges the more we must also read and think. The greater the challenges, the more we must remember that we possess the requisite talent, though hidden in some instances, the brain power, and most of the resources to solve our problems. We must fight on!