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Keep our eyes on the HIV/AIDS threat

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Tue, Dec 6. 2011

Last Thursday, St. Vincent and the Grenadines joined the international community in activities to mark World AIDS Day. Though local organisers would undoubtedly be pleased with their efforts, both for the occasion, and generally, in raising awareness of the disease and in promoting measures to combat it, there remains much more to do.{{more}} In particular, the general population, young people especially, need to display a greater sense of awareness of the subject and more committedness to its control, management and, eventually, one may hope, its eradication.

Since the first recorded local cases of HIV/AIDS in 1984, SVG has made some progress, in the last decade in particular, in combatting the disease. When the scourge first broke, HIV/AIDS was considered a death warrant. In addition the social stigma, fuelled by ignorance, was such that it was tantamount to how leprosy used to be viewed. Many persons associated the disease either with homosexuality or with loose heterosexual behaviour. A lot has changed since then.

The international effort in dealing with HIV/AIDS has been matched by local organisers to a degree that HIV is no longer a death sentence. In recent years in particular, the death rate from AIDS has been declining sharply, with the number of deaths falling from 68 in 2006/7 to 46 in 2008/9, a drop of 32 per cent. Deaths had reached their highest peak around 1999/2000, whilst the number of HIV/AIDS cases reached its zenith in 2003/4.

There are some other interesting aspects to be gleaned from the statistics produced by the local AIDS Secretariat. One of these debunks the old impression that AIDS in men is primarily caused by homosexual contact. The figures show that 70 per cent of the cases arise from heterosexual interaction. There is also the fact that the number of cases in women is increasing.

The reduction in the death threat from HIV/AIDS can lead to complacency and a tendency to take things for granted. People who have admitted to, or have been identified as being HIV positive are increasingly being seen to be living normal lives. The American basketball superstar ‘Magic’ Johnson is perhaps the best known, surviving with the disease for two decades now and looking as healthy and cheerful as any other soul. This can cause us to relax in our vigilance and to drop our guard. It can also lead to young persons beginning to consider AIDS as just another chronic disease, with an outlook that says that even if you contract the disease, it is “no big thing”, as treatment is available.

Should such a view gain further traction, there is cause for greater concern nationally. Already, the relatively high level of teenage pregnancies reveals the vulnerability of the young population. In addition, the worrying tendency towards sexual assault and abuse of minors and women in general represents a potential threat of the spread of the disease. Such sexual abusers are unlikely to worry about protection in carrying out their despicable actions.

All in all however, as we congratulate all those involved in the local effort to keep HIV/AIDS at bay, we must urge continued vigilance, intensified efforts, especially among those sections of the population most at risk, and more public support for the campaign.

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