Staffers in various departments of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs, are now in a better position to educate themselves and their peers about HIV and AIDS and the fallacy of stigma and discrimination – a situation which has dogged many a sufferer for decades.
To heighten awareness of the need to practise safe sex, the department staged a one-day consultation entitled: Stigma and Discrimination in the Workplace.?? It was held recently at the Amaryllis Beach Resort, Hastings, Christ Church. ??
Chairman of the Ministry’s Core Group, Annette Weekes, who at the time was speaking in the capacity as Acting Deputy Permanent Secretary, explained the rationale for the group’s formation.?? She also disclosed that the workshop was one of several activities planned for the year which was designed to disseminate information on HIV and AIDS to staff members who would then inform their peers on the job or in communities about the disease.
"The HIV/AIDS Core Group was formed with the view to disseminating information on the management, prevention and control of HIV and AIDS.?? The aim of the core group is to provide a basic understanding of HIV and AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases and other chronic illnesses; while at the same time, promoting a supportive and humane environment for people living with and affected with HIV and AIDS," she explained.
Ms. Weekes lamented however, that despite a wealth of information on the transmission of HIV and AIDS, there were still too many instances of stigma and discrimination against persons living with HIV and AIDS.
"It is envisaged that such training would help to reduce the incidence of stigma and discrimination against persons living with HIA and AIDS and hopefully, a reduction of the incidence among workers."
Emphasising that HIV and AIDS was still viewed as a "death sentence," despite a wealth of information on the number of persons living with the disease worldwide, she remarked: "HIV and AIDS is a life threatening disease…Will we be able to end HIV and AIDS…Will we see it end in our lifetime?"??
Meanwhile, HIV/AIDS Programme Coordinator in the Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development, Hughson Inniss, who gave an interactive presentation on HIV and AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, produced statistics on their prevalence and the age groups most saffected.
Using a variety of pictures to show the impact of the various sexually transmitted diseases on the body to "drive home" the point about the dangers, he revealed that there was a link between Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI’s) and contracting HIV.
"…There are linkages to HIV and if you have a sexually transmitted infection, it is a straight avenue for entry into your blood stream for HIV.?? Conversely, when the person has HIV, especially if he/she is going on to full blown AIDS and acquire a STI, then that’s another worry because it will add to the pain and discomfort for the individual.
"It is not AIDS that kills; it is the stigma that kills the spirit.?? When a person contracts a STI, this creates other problems such as pneumonia that will lead to death in the end… not AIDS…," Mr. Inniss emphasised.??
The HIV/AIDS Programme Coordinator also expressed concern about an increase in STI cases among the island’s youth, mainly in the 15-19 age group.
"The statistics are showing a higher level of STI’s among our young people today than normal and this ought to concern us.?? Our records show that in the 15-19 age group, Barbados has the highest ratio of infection than any other Caribbean country.?? It [the data] tells us as well that STI’s are very rampant in this age group as well.
"Therefore, this situation is what we have to be concerned about and we need to know as much about it as possible because half of the job is knowing," Mr. Inniss underscored.
Noting that there was still more to be learnt about HIV and a person’s lifespan, he produced anecdotal evidence about a man living with HIV for the past 32 years.
Mr. Inniss also mentioned the need to practise safe sex.?? "It is important that you understand that if you are not sure about your partner’s status, it is necessary to practise safer sex by using condoms every time.?? There is protection available for both men and women so you have no excuse not to be protected," he affirmed.
In addition to trying to educate the public about HIV and AIDS, the Ministry of Finance will continue to do its part to ensure that the prevalence of stigma and discrimination within the population becomes a myth more so than the reality for persons living with HIV and AIDS.