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Aids stigma – a big problem

Aids stigma – a big problem

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The stigma attached to HIV/AIDS is recognised by health care professionals as one of the major hurdles that prevents persons from coming forward to be tested and treated.{{more}}

According to Minister of Health and the Environment Dr. Douglas Slater, people believe that they are going to be discriminated against, “if they are going be ostracized and stigmatized,” he says, “They would not want to come forward to do the testing.”

In an interview last Wednesday during the Triple A and Friends Live in Theatre Concert at the Peace Memorial Hall, Dr. Slater reinforced that recently he attended a high level conference in St. Kitts to encourage persons to stamp out stigma and discrimination against persons who are suffering from HIV. He said that the conference dealt specifically with stigmatisation.

He said that persons should realize that AIDS “is with us and going to be with us for a long time so all of us are going to be affected directly of indirectly at some point”.

“It is not casually transmitted so there is no need to shun or run away from interacting directly and physically with persons; once you are not getting involved sexually there is no risk”, stresses the Health Minister.

“We want to encourage persons who are suffering and know they are or have been exposed to come forward so that we can treat them because people are living many years now with treatment and treatment is available free,” said Dr. Slater.

He said getting persons to come forward is a big challenge, “but if more people come more people will be treated and that in itself helps to break the transmission because treatment and education and knowledge of how it is transmitted and how one should behave after counselling will definitely decrease the transmission”.

Counsellor at the HIV/AIDS Unit, Shanti Crosby, also spoke about stigma and discrimination being a very big problem in SVG. And it’s because of this stigma and discrimination, said Crosby, that a lot of persons do not come forward to be tested and so receive the relevant treatment.

“This is something that we definitely have to work on and we try to use the mass media and different methods of getting the message across that persons with HIV are normal people and you don’t just ignore them because they are HIV positive,” Crosby laments.

She added that her unit is definitely trying to educate the public, “because a lot of people, although they know about AIDS, the information they have is very basic and they go by a lot of myths and have a lot of prejudices”.

Also present at the Triple A and Friends Live in Theatre fund raising event was Jeannie McDonald, president of the National Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) network on HIV/AIDS and Louis Mitchell, one of the founding members of Artistes Against Aids.

Mitchell said that the concert, apart from being held in acknowledgement of World Aids Day, was held to raise the awareness of the dreaded disease. He said all the proceeds would go towards the Bread of Life Community which is a very needy cause.

McDonald added that the dynamism and enthusiasm by the artistes and the patrons showed that the message is getting through. Both ladies agreed that persons who are idolized are perfect candidates to help fight the stigma attached to the disease.

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