Guyana Defence Force Chief of Staff, Commodore Gary Best has expressed satisfaction with the strides made by the Force’s HIV/AIDS Project.
The army chief stated that “The outcomes of this Project validate the Army’s earlier decision to have it implemented and is proving to be invaluable to the GDF’s commitment to social and human development at the individual and national levels.”
He added “We were aware of the effects that HIV/AIDS was having in Guyanese society and were concerned about the susceptibility of our population in the GDF to the vagaries of this new health phenomenon, and decided that we must engage in the development of strategies and programmes to mitigate against the spread of this scourge within the military.”
The Chief of Staff’s remarks were in response to a query thrown his way, regarding the usefulness of GDF HIV/Project to the Force. The GDF HIV/AIDS Project was launched on March 1, 2006.
Sponsored by the U.S Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) it was implemented by the Centre for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine (CDHAM) HIV/AIDS prevention programme projects.
It is a part of the U.S government’s HIV/AIDS Country Operational Plan as part of U.S PEPFAR supported initiatives. Specifically designed for the GDF, the Project is being conducted through nine operational programme areas.
The areas include, but are not restricted to, Prevention through Abstinence, Be Faithful and Condomize (ABC) Awareness and Behavioral Change Initiatives, Prevention through Medical Transmission and Blood Safety Best Practices, Condom Distribution and the Training of Army medical personnel.
According to Project Manager, Beverly Lovell, there are currently 29 Trainers, and 50 Counselors and Testers within the Army and as a result of the Force’s Awareness and Peer Education programmes, a total of 1,454 persons have been tested. This number represents just about 50% of the Force’s ranks.
Additionally, some 90 Trained and Certificated Peer Educators are at work in the system, educating their fellow soldiers and even others outside of the Force, regarding the many issues surrounding HIV/AIDS.
“Many others have also been indirectly impacted,” says Mrs. Lovell, “We have produced our own Information Training and Communication (ITC) materials which are used for all our programmes.”
Lovell also reports that another 1,761 persons have been reached directly through communication messages and other interventions such as the insertion of unique comic strips in pay envelopes.
“Positive and informed behavioral change is what is needed to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS everywhere and our focus toward the end of 2008 will be on enhancing strategies and intensifying our efforts with regard to prevention programmes,” says Lovell.
“The priority continues to be impacting the soldiers in such a way that there is significant behavior change which results in abstinence choices for the younger soldiers and also safer sex practices amongst the others,” she says.
“There are indications that many soldiers are seeking to engage in safer sex practices with their partners while some have pledged to abstain until they get married.”
Under the HIV/AIDS Project to date, the laboratory at the GDF Medical Corps has been refurbished and more work in the provision of laboratory supplies and the training of laboratory personnel will be done.
Critical initiatives of the Project are the Palliative Care Programme which provides for Basic Health Care and Support for Persons Living With HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) along with medical care and support for Tuberculosis/HIV patients.
Despite the successes, stigma and discrimination continues to be a problem for many living with HIV/AIDS. Lovell noted that there is need for more education.
She says that people have to understand that the psychological trauma caused by stigmatization and discrimination can be quite devastating to the infected person.
She said that the pain of rejection which is experienced by many who are living with HIV is as a result of other people’s lack of understanding and compassion.
“Persons are encouraged to seek counseling with their partners and family members. Loved ones of the infected person must be aware that they have a role to play in making the infected person’s life comfortable through the gifts of their love and commitment,” she said.
Commodore Best added his voice to the call for compassion saying, “I appeal to all officers and ranks to individually and collectively learn and demonstrate a superior understanding of the issues surrounding HIV/AIDS within our society.
Let us undertake to purge ourselves of negative attitudes towards those living with HIV/AIDS and, as men and women trained to fight, let us fight to protect ourselves and others not only from becoming infected and affected, but also from the ignorance and prejudices embodied in stigma and discrimination against those in our community who must bear this burden…
As we move forward to scale up efforts at Prevention, I am happy that we are indeed joined in this fight against HIV/AIDS,” he said.
An interactive educational programme using football as the communicative medium is planned for the GDF Anniversary programme in November.
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