Aug 31, 2008 News Comments Off on The HIV/AIDS fight…FATE provides hope against stigma and discrimination
There may yet be some hope lingering that people infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) could lead normal lives free of stigma and discrimination even after disclosing their status.
At least this is the primary objective of a recently unveiled programme which is expected to boost the fight against stigma and discrimination through a movement referred to as “Fighting AIDS through Training and Education” (FATE).
With funding from CIDA amounting to about Cdn$1.6M, twelve Caribbean countries are targeted for the programme over the next three years.
The venture was introduced here by the Head of the Caribbean Family Planning Association (CFPA), Dr Tirbani Jagdeo, and is slated to be implemented locally by the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association.
But can such a programme really penetrate the fabric of society and effectively reverse the trend of stigma and discrimination?
Highly unlikely, says Sunita, an HIV victim that has survived her fate for almost 10 years now.
According to the elegant-looking woman, over the years she has seen programmes with similar intent come and go, yet the stigma and discrimination continues unabated.
“It’s a way of life…It’s like breathing and so it just comes naturally to some people,” she lamented.
Recounting her own experiences with stigma and discrimination, Sunita said that she had just hit her 20s when she along with a very close friend decided to both get tested.
It was just a spontaneous idea, she noted, adding that both she and her friend were positive that they could not have been infected.
That notion was short-lived when the two got back their results, with Sunita’s being positive and her friend’s negative.
Believing at the time that she was blessed with the “bestest best friend in the world” Sunita decided to disclose her status to her friend.
“It was a shock to me to see my friend of since school days pull away from me as if I was covered in filth…,” a heartbroken Sunita related.
Immediately after the disclosure, Sunita said that she realised that she had probably made the second biggest mistake of her life.
The first being that she gave in to having unprotected sex with a man she thought she knew.
“I couldn’t have caught it any other way…It had to be him, he was the only man that was ever able to persuade me to have unprotected sex…I just gave in,” Sunita said in a remorseful tone.
With tears beginning to stream down her pale but full cheeks, the young woman said that her faith in the possible transmitter of the virus was based on the fact that he was married and had five healthy children.
But though she claims to have moved pass the manner in which she may have contracted the virus, Sunita related that it is still very hard for her to comprehend the fact of how easily the virus can be passed on to unsuspecting victims, even as she pondered on how many more will suffer a similar fate to hers.
And as if contracting the deadly, incurable virus was not bad enough, the young woman said that she soon learnt that life as she knew it would never be the same again.
It first started with her losing the one person in the world that she had regarded as her best friend.
According to Sunita, her friend wasted no time in broadcasting her dilemma.
The two had lived on the same block, just a few houses apart, and as far as all of the villagers knew, they were inseparable. But then things changed.
“I didn’t hear her, but I know in my heart she told people and they passed the word around…I could tell from the way people started acting with me…The stares from villagers who would congregate even in the streets. It was like I caught the plague…But you know what, it probably is just another version of the plague…”
Fortunately for Sunita though, she was able to find solace in the caring arms of family members, particularly her mother, who never for a moment made her feel less than human.
So caring was her mother that she was willing to evade stigma and discrimination against her daughter by moving not only to another village but also another county, to start what they call “a new life.”
With people like Sunita’s mother in the equation there very well might be hope to putting an end to the stigma and discrimination problem.
According to Dr Jagdeo, stigma and discrimination has always been around thus it did not start with the advent of HIV/AIDS.
He recounted the days when women giving birth out of wedlock or the incidence of teenage pregnancy were situations to which an abundance of stigma and discrimination was directed.
However, he noted, it was education polices, changed Government commitment, and the work of Non-Governmental Organisations that played a vital role in breaking down the barriers of stigma and discrimination.
In similar fashion he said that the stigma and discrimination that is being perpetrated against persons living will HIV and AIDS can be effectively addressed through education and a general shifting of the cultural climate, a movement which he believes will soon be successful in Guyana and the Caribbean.
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