Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Ja: Plight of AIDS sufferers in the Caribbean

STIGMA AND discrimination, treatment and the increasing number of women becoming infected with HIV/AIDS are three of the greatest problems facing the Caribbean region in its fight against HIV/AIDS.

"Not more than 10 per cent of persons who need treatment are getting it. That is what poverty does. Due to poverty, we in the region are not able to provide treatment and care to all who need it," Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, Dr. Denzil Douglas, told delegates here at the XV International AIDS Conference. Dr. Douglas was responding to questions at a special forum set up to give delegates the opportunity to pose questions to leaders on their commitment to fight HIV/AIDS.
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"In many cases women are not able to negotiate properly with their partners as it relates to issues of sex," Dr. Douglas said. He also pointed to the problem of multiple sexual partners and the macho culture which gives men the right to have as many women as possible without the requisite safe sex practices.

Despite this though, he said what made the Caribbean unique and offers some hope in the future is that educationally, women are doing much better than men.

One of the greatest challenges faced by the Caribbean region in its initial response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, Dr. Douglas said, was identifying persons at the highest level who would openly admit the disease existed in the region.

"In the Caribbean, tourism as you know is the main foreign exchange earner and so many of our leaders were not willing to admit this as it was felt it would affect tourism," he said.
In the first case, the Caribbean lacks the resources to cope with AIDS and must realize that the answer to the problem is not more money but is social reformation.

In the second, the Caribbean needs to reform its social culture by implementing the Ugandan ABC model from elementary school onwards. Jam is fine for breakfast and wine for social events, but the jam and wine culture so prevalent in the Caribbean has contributed to creation of a laissez faire sexual morality. Do what you wanna do may be a viable code of conduct but only if one is willing to stand the bounce of the consequences. Therefore, Caribbean governments need to preach ABC; to have the home, school, and churches drum the AB part into the head of the young and encourage the C, but within the context of the marriage relationship. That way, Caribbean governments and people stand a chance of surviving.

in the third, the Caribbean needs to recognize that even though many of their economies need tourism to survive, they must confront the AIDS crisis publicly. One of the things that Caribbean governments might consider doing is requiring health certificates from foreign visitors, especially since part of the AIDS problem is derived from sexual tourism. Until the region's heads put the dirty linen to hang out on the line, they will not be able to get a grasp of the problem.

Wanting to be free to do as one pleases is a wonderful thing, but dying horribly of a preventable disease puts a heck of a crimp in the hedonistic lifestyle.

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