“It is better to light a candle than to curse the dark” was the Chinese proverb referred to in the midst of Minister Leslie Ramsammy’s address to an audience gathered in aid of yet another HIV/AIDS testing activity leading up to National Week of Testing, which is scheduled to be held from November 22-26.
Under the theme “Confidential and Reliable, Get Tested now!” the National AIDS Programme Secretariat (NAPS), on Monday last hosted a public testing activity at the University of Guyana (Tain Campus) for several senior officials, members of the business community and non Governmental Organizations from Region Six.
The involvement of these senior functionaries in this exercise has as one of its objectives to motivate others to know their status during the upcoming week of testing.
Among those tested were Minister of Health Dr. Leslie Ramsammy, Director UG Berbice Campus Professor Daizal Samad, along with Four (4) Senior Lecturers and other university students.
In giving an overview of the National week of Testing, Debra Success, a NAPS official, informed the audience of the progression the venture has made in that the number of persons being tested has significantly increased every year. Success said that the first National Week of Testing saw just over 1000 persons getting testing. However, last year close to 30.000 persons were tested countrywide.
Dr. Vishwa Mahadeo, CEO, Berbice Regional Health Authority (BRHA) while giving brief remarks stressed that no one is perfect, and being HIV positive does not make a person less than a human being, therefore an individual should not be discriminated against because of their status.
Mahadeo encouraged all Tain university students to get tested and for each student to encourage at least 25 friends, family and associates to do the same “let Georgetown follow”.
According to Mahadeo, 475 testing sites will be accessible for the public’s utilization therefore all Guyanese should come on board with the “great initiative”. He further commented that, last year, Region six had a total number of 11,000 persons testing and “this year we must reach at least 12,000”.
Minister Ramsammy in his opening remarks declared how honoured he was to be standing on the platform of University of Guyana Tain Campus to promote such an important venture. Ramsammy, in an effort to show how Guyana has progressed over the years, made reference to the days when the university uses to be referred to as the “Cheddi Jagan night school”.
“Guyana is not only our country it is our Eldorado and HIV is an enemy; an enemy that has the potential to destroy our society to shatter hopes and dreams.”
According to the Minister, in March 1981 came the discovery of AIDS which then, had no name. He further informed that while it was the first discovery it did not mean that that was the first case.
Ramsammy, in his efforts to adequately edify the audience, said that in 1981 doctors found out that it is a virus that causes AIDS; one that affects the immune system. The Minister went on to say that the virus we now know as AIDS was formally referred to as GRID (Gay-related immune deficiency). According to Ramsammy, this resulted from the fact that the first 25 reported cases of the virus were all homosexuals. However, he further mentioned, doctors soon found other cases that indicated that the virus did not only affect homosexuals; then it was discovered that the virus could also be transmitted through blood transfusion and the sharing of needles.
In 1987, the minister said no medication was yet discovered, there were no answers and persons were dying quickly. However, he further informed that it was in that same year that Zidovudine or azidothymidine (AZT) was discovered. The minister informed that this was the first medicine used to “delay death” caused by the then new name for the virus AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).
Sadly, the minister said, many years later we still have no cure, but he added that stronger medications are available.
Ramsammy said that HIV cannot be stopped but the method of transmission is clear to us.
“We know that some of our behavioral patterns are contributing factors for the spread of HIV.” He encouraged the audience to curb those patterns and “we can win the war against AIDS”
While Ramsammy continued to inform the audience about HIV historical stats he stated that, in 2000, seven out of every 100 pregnant women tested positive; “we found ourselves in an ominous situation where babies were born infected”.
The health Minister noted that, “we could have then thrown our hands up in despair and given up”. However, he said “it is better to light a candle than to curse the dark… we lighted our candle.”
“We need to stand with pride, since instead of seven in every 100 pregnant mothers testing positive, it is now one in every 100, instead of 100-400 babies being born positive, it is now 3-4.”
The minister then acknowledged that the virus is smart so “we must be the same, get tested”.
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