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Time to break HIV stigma (with CNC3 video)
As upsetting and confusing as it is to bring up the subject of HIV with young children, it is also essential to do so. In a highly globalised industry, one cannot ignore the various mediums of information which surround us on a daily basis. Television shows, the Internet and even social media platforms are being used as vehicles of information. Sometimes, information disseminated from these forums tend to be skewed, exaggerated or even inaccurate.
Burying our heads in the sand like the proverbial ostrich, or pretending HIV does not exist, or keeping it as a taboo subject, will in no way assist in properly educating both adults and children alike on the important issue. No longer can parents pass the responsibility of lecturing to their children about HIV and sexually transmitted diseases to teachers, the Internet, their peers or television. In various countries worldwide, sex education, or sex ed as its normally called, is embedded in the school syllabus and a variety of topics are taught from kindergarten to high school levels.
Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan, in an interview with the T&T Guardian, agrees that more needs to be done to ensure that society is properly educated when it comes to HIV. He said although T&T had come a long way since first hearing about HIV, stigma, discrimination and victimisation still existed. Khan said because the proper legislative framework had not yet being implemented (the National Gender Policy), nothing could be done about tackling discrimination and victimisation in the workplace.
But the minister agrees that teaching children from an early age about the dangers of engaging in sexual activity needs to take place. “Children need to know from early what is a bad touch. We need to educate from early. Parents need to start taking responsibility and speaking with their children about the effects of engaging in sexual activity,” Khan said.
Not wanting to rule out the possibility of such a plan being implemented in schools, Khan said to some the labelling of sex education gave the impression “that we want to teach children how to have sex.
“This is not the case and I believe we need to coin a different name for such topics when dealing with schools,” he added. He said he would soon be seeking an audience with Minister of Education Dr Tim Goopeesingh to discuss the introduction of proper and age-appropriate education dealing with sex, sexually transmitted diseases and poor choices affiliated with sex-related decisions. The reality, Khan said, remained that students from primary schools were sexually active and something needed to be done.
Partnering in fight against HIV
Khan said his ministry partnered with several non-governmental organisations, regional health authorities, the Family Planning Association of T&T and the University of the West Indies in an effort to sensitise the population and rid the public of any misconceptions regarding HIV. “Allowing the public to know life isn’t over once a loved one tests positive for HIV and letting the individual know that there are facilities which are free of charge to receive treatment, are just some of the things we highlight during our educational drive,” he said.
Admitting that the greatest challenge comes from persuading people to get tested, Khan said based on statistics there had been a sharp decline in men getting tested for HIV and a lot of the scepticism had to do with misinformation.
“On an average, treating an HIV infected person is $14,000 a year,” Khan said, noting such treatment is actually free to the infected person. The minister added that treatment centres were located in both Trinidad and Tobago (see box), while plans were afoot to establish an HIV treatment centre in Mayaro. He said that would become a reality once the reaction to HIV had been desensitised and that would occur through rigorous educational drives and consultations.
Cases in T&T on decline
Programme director of the HIV and Aids Co-ordinating Unit at the Ministry of Health Dr Brian Armour, in an interview with the T&T Guardian, says there has been a decrease in HIV in the country. Armour said that was because a lot of persons, namely women, were getting tested during pregnancy. “There are mechanisms in place to ensure that an HIV-positive mother doesn’t give birth to an HIV baby. There are treatments available,” he said He said from 2007-2011, there were 1,429; 1,448; 1,390; 1,154 and 1,077 new HIV cases, respectively.
Asked whether such a decline could be attributed to people not getting tested as well, Armour said that had been the argument brought forward by many, but in his opinion was probably not an accurate assessment of the reality. People, Armour said, were becoming more aware and responsible about their lifestyles. He pointed out that other Caribbean countries have also seen a decline in their HIV positive cases. He said tracing back to 1985 when the first cases of HIV among females and children were reported, statistics have shown that since 2004, HIV had been higher among females than males in all age groups, with young persons in the age bracket 25-34 being the most affected.
Tomorrow: An interview with Dr Amery Browne and his involvement with HIV
HIV Treatment Centres
• Eastern Regional Health Authority
• Sangre Grande Treatment Clinic, Ojoe Road
• Paediatric Outpatient Clinic
• Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex
• Cyril Ross Nursery, 1 El Dorado Road, Tunapuna
Tobago Health Promotion Clinic
• Calder Hall, Scarborough
• Scarborough Regional Hospital, Fort King George, Scarborough
Medical Research Foundation
• 7 Queen’s Park East, Port-of-Spain
• South-West Regional Health Authority, San Fernando General Hospital
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