As the country marked National Day of Testing last Wednesday, the Guyana Defence Force took the opportunity to host its own Health Fair.
Staged on the tarmac at Camp Ayanganna in the afternoon, the fair was more than just an opportunity to get tested for HIV/AIDS. There were booths from a number of Governmental as well as private agencies that were set up to provide several health services.
There were health screenings that allowed persons to find out their HIV status, blood pressure, Body Mass Index (BMI) and Blood Group. There were also provisions to undertake oral examinations for dental health as well as vaccinations and immunisation.
According to Mrs. Beverley Gomes-Lovell, Head of the GDF HIV/AIDS Prevention Programme, “The programme is promoting a health fair to further educate our ranks, their families and friends about wellness, prevention and reduction of stigma and discrimination.”
She said that outside of the actual health services being offered, there was also emphasis on the dissemination of information. The attendees of the fair were exposed to a plethora of pamphlets, posters, models, live demonstrations and qualified personnel all aimed at helping them to make smarter lifestyle choices.
The Health Fair which was yet another of the events to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the Defence Force was arranged in part with assistance from the PEPFAR or President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief Programme funded by the US. Representing the United States Military Liaison Office at the US Embassy was Medical Operations Officer, Major Brook Elkins.
Major Elkins, in his remarks to the attendees of the fair, said that Guyana is a nation as healthy as it is diverse but he noted that in the same vein there are those in the country who struggle with addictions, chronic or terminal diseases and unhealthy sexual lifestyles.
He went on to note that it was therefore incumbent on those better off to make an effort to help others who may be struggling to lead healthier lives. The major called on the audience to make four commitments: to inform themselves of the ills and how to prevent them; make ‘right choices’ for health thereby leading by example; to speak out and lend assistance to those who need it without judging and get tested/checked regularly.
He pointed out that if more people were to commit to healthier lifestyles then the possibilities for a better world improve.
Chief of Staff, Commodore Gary Best in his address pointed out the importance of educating the ranks on the challenges that come with HIV/AIDS. He said that the disease is more than just a health concern; it was a national security concern.
Commodore Best said that the Defence Force is trained to fight visible enemies yet here was a virus that has already racked up a death toll greater than that of all the twentieth century wars combined.
He added that, “Education is spreading hope. Millions are learning how to live with the virus rather than waiting to die from it.”
He noted that the commitment to fight HIV/AIDS is present and the Guyana Defence Force will not allow the disease to incapacitate it. “We are waging war against the scourge of HIV.”
Delivering the feature address at the Fair was Minister of Health Dr. Leslie Ramsammy who lauded the GDF for “taking on its responsibilities not just as a security force but as a developmental instrument.”
As an example of the Defence Force’s dedication to the cause, the Minister said that years ago when the Ministry was in dire need of blood the Guyana Defence Force pioneered the practice of voluntary blood donation.
The Minister also spoke of the PEPFAR contributions to the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Minister Ramsammy went on to say that when the partnership began Guyana was never so threatened by external forces as it was by HIV/AIDS. He said, “The GDF did not stand by, they joined the battle.”
“While 10 years ago the struggle was to ensure that HIV/AIDS did not overwhelm us, just days before World AIDS Day 2010 we can speak with confidence not just of reduction and reversal but in terms of elimination and eradication – in this generation,” he said.
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