By Lesroy W. Williams Observer Reporter
(Basseterre, St. Kitts) – Hundreds of the nation’s youths accompanied by adults took to the streets of Basseterre on Nov. 27 in a united front to demonstrate that everyone must be involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS, against discrimination of people living with the disease and in education to prevent the spread of the pandemic. Students from several primary and secondary schools, representatives from the Ministry of Health and the six young beauties vying for the 2008/2009 National Carnival Queen Title marched and performed to the tempo of the Seventh-day Adventist Drummers, the St. Kitts-Nevis Defense Force Drum Corps and a few sound systems. Banners displaying slogans such as “Stop AIDS, Keep the Promise”; “Abstinence, ain’t no pain in waiting”; “Be Faithful, one is enough, two too many”; “Your Condom or Mine, Saving Three Lives”; “Ouch, HIV/AIDS Discrimination Hurts”; and “Human Rights for Women, Human Rights for All, Keep the Promise, Stop AIDS” were lessons to be learnt for the many onlookers on the streets. The annual march was part of the program put on by the Ministry of Health to develop awareness about the spread of HIV in our society so that people can be more responsible in their sexual behaviours.” The Ministry of Health is trying to promote the ABCDE approach to fighting the incurable disease. A=abstinence, B=be faithful, C=condom use, D=do the test, and E=educate yourself. National AIDS Coordinator in the Ministry of Health, Mrs. Gardenia Destang-Richardson, said that there are just a little fewer than 300 reported cases of HIV positive persons up to June of this year but the figure is greater because it doesn’t take into consideration the unreported cases. “The burden to prevent the spread of HIV can’t be only on government and policy-makers, it must start with the individual in taking personal responsibility for their behaviour,” Mrs. Destang-Richardson said. “Stigma and discrimination are hurting the fight against HIV and AIDS and people must see HIV positive individuals as human beings first,” she said. Dec. 1 of every year has marked World Aids Day for the past 20 years. This year the theme is “Lead, Empower, Deliver.” “AIDS is the most challenging and probably the most devastating infectious disease humanity has ever had to face. And humanity has faced this disease, in equally unprecedented ways. The international community has rallied at levels ranging from grass-roots movements to heads of state, from faith-based organizations and philanthropists to research institutions, academia, and industry,” World Health Director- General, Dr. Margaret Chan said in her address to mark World AIDS Day 2008.” “Empowerment is critical for an effective response, and most especially so for prevention. We must do much more to empower adolescent girls and women, both to protect themselves and to act as agents of change. We must work much harder to fight stigma and discrimination, which are huge obstacles to all forms of prevention, treatment, care, and support. In many countries, legal as well as social and cultural barriers prevent groups at risk from receiving the interventions and knowledge needed to reduce harmful behaviours,” Dr. Chan said. “We have to end the stigma and discrimination that still stop so many people from learning how to prevent HIV and get treatment. And we need resources”enough to provide services that will have a real impact in communities and on entire nations. The need to lead, empower and deliver on AIDS is as real and urgent as ever,” UN Secretary General, Ban, Ki-moon said. Chairman of Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV and AIDS (PANCAP), the Hon. Dr. Denzil Douglas, Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, said in his World AIDS Day address for 2008 that political leadership is critical to ensuring universal access. “We celebrate the fact that over the past year there has been a decline in the overall rate of mortality from AIDS, that more people in the Caribbean have access to anti-retroviral drugs, that there is an increasing awareness of the need to reduce stigma and discrimination and that more professionals are being trained in AIDS related fields. But there are concerns. AIDS remains the leading cause of death among persons aged 15-44 years, the rate of infection is increasing among women and men who have sex with men, and the Caribbean has still the second highest HIV prevalence rate in the world after sub-Saharan Africa. We need to find solutions. It is our obligation to do so,” Dr. Douglas said. “A strategy however is only meaningful when translated into action. “Political commitment and leadership are required to create the enabling environment that would allow for this action. Political leadership is critical to ensuring the long-term sustainability of programmes to achieve universal access and to reverse the spread of this epidemic. The Region’s political directorate must remain steadfast in dealing with the controversial issues that HIV generates,” he said. Leaders worldwide have been calling for the decriminalization of prostitution and homosexuality, arguing that homosexuals and prostitutes are two minority groups that are at risk of contracting and spreading the HIV virus because of them being driven underground due to discrimination. However, the majority of Caribbean societies are vehemently opposed to this, saying that it goes against Biblical teaching.
Kittians March to Support AIDS Fight
By Lesroy W. Williams Observer Reporter