By L. K. Hewlett

St. Kitts Reporter

Focus on HIV/AIDS, a yearly magazine, has launched its second edition themed ‘Breaking the Walls of Stigma and Discrimination’.

The magazine is the brainchild of Media In Support Of People Living With HIV/AIDS (MISOPLWHA) which is spearheaded by Rawle Nelson.

During the ceremony that was held last Friday at the St. Theresa’s Medical University to mark the auspicious occasion, the CARICOM lead spokesman on HIV/AIDS, Prime Minister of St. Kitts Hon Denzil Douglas, gave the keynote address. He assured the Federation that HIV/AIDS is a health and economic matter that remains high on his national agenda and indeed, that of the OECS and Caribbean Community.

“I have great pleasure on behalf of the government and the people of St. Kitts and Nevis in congratulating MISOPLWHA on this launch of the second edition of this magazine Focus on HIV/AIDS. I wish to express publicly my own support of the members of this media support group for the very important efforts at engaging the region’s media in the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS. It has long been advocated that the success of the fight depends to a large measure in the multifaceted approach involving the wide cross section of our people, communities, organisations and institutions. I am pleased that this edition has chosen as its theme ‘Breaking the Walls of Stigma and Discrimination’ thus highlighting issues that have emerged as hindering factors in dealing with the spread of this disease,” Douglas said.

The prime minister disclosed that an unprecedented number of political leaders and policy makers from within and without the Caribbean region had attended the first ever international meeting in St. Kitts on reducing HIV/AIDS related stigma and discrimination.

“It was a significant meeting at which critical matters relative to stigma and discrimination were discussed. It helped to clearly define the appropriate tools, the leadership responsibility and the specific policy frameworks that could be applied in reducing HIVAIDS related stigma and discrimination,” he noted.

Douglas hastened to offer commendations to the companies that had provided support of the magazine through their advertisement and encouraged continued support in similar manner from other private entities.

With Digicel being one of the supporters of the project since the first edition, Country Manager for Digicel St. Kitts and Nevis Donovan White commended the organisation’s efforts and also addressed the issue of discrimination in the business place.

“… The response to HIV/AIDS should not only be a State prerogative, but that it must also come from the communities and people affected by the epidemic. I am happy to see that some members of the business community have embraced the second edition of this fabulous magazine. Empathy, understanding and tolerance of others afflicted by syndromes such as HIV/AIDS must begin with each of us. It is the duty of employers to educate their employees on the facts surrounding the disease, how it is contracted, what people fear and how it is spread. There are still those of us who feel that the disease can be contracted through casual touch or being in close proximity to an infected person. It is this ignorance that makes us shun, ridicule, discriminate against and cause further pain to persons already suffering a deadly fate. Fear of ridicule and rejection is one of the main reasons that people remain reticent with regards to finding out their HIV status and from seeking treatment, care and support,” he said.

White also quoted alarming statistics related to the disease including the fact that on average, 200 persons die from HIV and related complications every day in Latin America and the Caribbean. Against that backdrop, he appealed to the prime minister to ‘aggressively pursue the best interest of the people in the federation who were grappling with the epidemic’.

Nadine Farrell, the representative for National Bank, one of the supporters of the initiative, said that it was also the second occasion that the banking institution had given its support to MISOPLWHA.

“I congratulate you on the launch of the second edition of this magazine. This is the second occasion that National Bank has given its support to this organisation as it continues its thrust to sensitise people to the urgent need for breaking down barriers which tend to sideline our brothers and sisters affected with HIV/AIDS. When Rawle spoke with us, his passion for eliminating the stigma and discrimination was palpable. He expressed a genuine concern regarding the discrimination against persons afflicted not only by HIV/AIDS but also diabetes, hypertension and cancer.

“For too long, persons living with HIV/AIDS have been seen as people who need charity and not opportunity. Out of ignorance far too many people have responded with prejudice, fear, denial, stigma and discrimination and discrimination fuels anxiety. Because these diseases may disable people, it does not mean that they are unable to be valuable parts of the work place and earn a living if given the opportunity. It does not mean that they unable to be part of their communities and therefore they should not be left out nor should they be left behind,” Farrell said.

The yearly magazine is a free publication of which three thousand (3000) copies of its first edition were distributed in 2006. This year’s publication was increased to 7000 copies. The project is a collaborative effort between MISOPLWHA, Becton Dickinson, a medical equipment manufacturer and St. Theresa’s Medical University. The magazine focuses on HIVAIDS related issues throughout the Caribbean region and also addresses other social issues and injustices.