Reject Complacency – Get Up and Get Tested!
All this week, St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) will join the international community in various activities leading up to World AIDS Day on December 1.
This year, the international theme is “Know your status” while the local slogan is: “Get up and get tested,” a necessary action if one is to know one’s status.
At a press conference last week, it was revealed that there are more than 800 people who have tested positive for HIV/AIDS and live in St Vincent and the Grenadines. And according to Ministry of Health officials, this number represents only a fraction of those living with the virus here, because many people have not been tested and therefore are unaware of their status (see story on page 16).
Since the first recorded local cases of HIV/AIDS in 1984, SVG has made fairly good progress, in the last two decades in particular, in combating 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.
The reduction in the death threat from HIV/AIDS can lead and has led to complacency and a tendency among some people 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. 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.
Although in one sense this attitude may signal that the disease no longer carries the stigma it once did, the downside is that people will not be as careful as they ought to be with their sexual interactions.
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.
Remember to wear red this Friday, November 30 and get up and get tested!