National AIDS campaign needs to be reviewed — Dr. Shamdeo Persaud
“People are not scared of HIV anymore; if they were, they would have been more careful. They know that there is treatment and that the treatment works so they believe that they no longer have to worry.”
By Jeanna Pearson
Chief Medical Officer Dr. Shamdeo Persaud has indicated that there is a need to re-examine the National HIV/AIDS campaign, given that there has been a growing trend of new HIV cases.
Persaud said that persons are no longer scared of contracting the disease because of their awareness that treatment is available and so have become complacent in their sexual activities.
“People are not scared of HIV anymore; if they were, they would have been more careful. They know that there is treatment and that the treatment works so they believe that they no longer have to worry,” he stated.
He asserted that while the campaign has held the mantle over the decades, it has run its course. Thus, he opined that there is a need to review its contents and change some of the measures used to tackle the pandemic.
“As it stands now, the campaign has the same old message: HIV/AIDS is a dangerous disease use a condom or abstain. It can’t work anymore…the figures are showing us that. We need to come up with new ways to reach the population.”
Dr. Persaud stated that statistics explain that it is mostly the younger population that has been engaging in unprotected sexual activities.
He affirmed that nearly 60% of youths begin having sex at an early age and most of them have little to no knowledge on how HIV/AIDS is contracted or knows how to protect themselves.
HIV/AIDS in Guyana has been affecting both genders in the population. In the early stage of the epidemic, males were predominantly more affected than females with ratios as high as 4:1.
From the late 1990’s, females started to be infected at a higher rate than their male counterparts and by 2004 HIV and AIDS cases were equally distributed in both sexes.
“We have to move beyond use a condom or abstain,” he asserted.
The Pan American Health Organization Health @50 in Guyana: Progress Health Report 1966-2016 revealed that a comparison of the annual trends in the number of AIDS/advanced HIV infection versus the number of persons with only HIV infection revealed a significant widening of the gap between the two.
Initially, AIDS cases were outstripping HIV infections, up to 2000. However, shortly after 2000, the trend shifted and Guyana started to witness a boom in new HIV cases.
Recently, Public Health Minster Dr. George Norton declared that there were about 500 new HIV cases each year. And according to the UNAIDS about three in every five persons living with HIV in 2015 were receiving antiretroviral therapy—that is 58% of the HIV population in that year.
According to the PAHO report, Guyana recorded its first case of AIDS in 1987. Since then, AIDS cases have progressively increased, reaching a peak of 435 in 2001. Thereafter, the number of cases dipped until last year.
And when the country started to report on all persons infected with HIV, there was an increase in reported data. Unlike AIDS cases which peaked in 2001, HIV infections (combination of HIV and AIDS) peaked five years later in 2006 with 1,614 cases.
An examination of the data before and after the peak of the epidemic in 2006, demonstrated that the average annual number of cases (1,036) did not vary in the five years before and after the peak.
A similar analysis covering 10 years prior to and after the peak of the epidemic, showed an average annual increase in cases in the later 10 years of the epidemic from 818 to 966.
Dr. Persaud stated that although they have managed to control the endemic, the elimination of new infections remains a major problem.
The rise in new HIV-related cases has caught the attention of the United Nations, which has moved to adopt a political declaration on Ending Aids to speed up the progress rate and reach a set of time-bound targets.
Countries will be given five years to take up a Fast Track approach to have fewer than 500,000 new HIV cases; fewer than 500,000 people dying from AIDS-related illness; and eliminating HIV related discrimination.
Persaud noted that discrimination against people living with HIV/AID still remains a problem in Guyana hence more work has to be done.
Over the years, he said, there has been concentrated testing and counselling campaigns in the fight against HIV/AIDS— both on a public and private level.
HIV/AIDS Counsellor Delon Braithwaite reaffirmed Persaud’s position that the campaign should be reviewed but also highlighted some critical areas that should be addressed.
He stated that many times health centres would be without condoms while others would have a shortage of equipment.
“If the population does not have access to resources to protect themselves, how could we stamp out the epidemic?”
Braithwaite indicated that because HIV is taken so lightly now, people engage in risky behaviour. “Some individuals would want to have six or seven sex partners,” he noted.
He posited that there should be a stronger awareness campaign that teaches people to protect themselves.
“Believe it or not, there are some people out there that don’t know how to protect themselves.”
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