Guyanese have a better chance of living with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that in many other countries, UNAIDS Country Coordinator for Guyana and Suriname Dr Ruben F Del Prado said in a recent press release.
Del Prado said government’s initiative to make “top-of-the-line” treatment available free of cost to everyone who is eligible based on medical classification is a testament to the fact that living with the infection in Guyana is not a “28 days later scenario.” He also said the availability of support services; both physiological and physical including access to a food bank through the National AIDS Programme Secretariat (NAPS) supported by the World Bank and those provided by several non-governmental organisations that have made persons living with HIV their focus means that those persons have a chance of coping with the virus that can cause AIDS.
However, the release said, the stigma of living with HIV is still a major issue in Guyana as citizens “have not yet come to terms with the survivability of persons who live with the virus.” Discrimination against people who live with the infection is also a factor in preventing them from accessing anti-retroviral treatment and, if efforts at providing treatment are to have an impact “HIV positive persons must be allowed their basic human rights, such as earning a living, having food and housing.” Stigma and discrimination also undermine education efforts that seek to promote safer sexual practices and encourage testing. Del Prado reiterated that in Guyana living with HIV is possible and while there is no cure, treatment, care and support available in the country can allow individuals to continue to live a meaningful life with HIV.
The release said funding mechanisms, international donors and development partners such as the global fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria; the Bank, the US President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief and the UN System in Guyana are offering technical and financial support to the government and its partners in the public and civil society sectors support initiatives to tackle the infection. The UN System with UNAIDS in the lead, has been supporting an increasingly successful national coordinated approach to the HIV response here ably led by the health ministry with oversight provided by the Presidential Commission on HIV in keeping with the “Three Ones.” These are one agreed HIV Action Framework that provides the basis for co-ordinating the work of all partners (The National Guyana HIV Strategy 2007-2011); one National AIDS Coordinating Authority with a broad-based multi-sector mandate (NAPS) and one agreed country-level Monitoring and Evaluation system (the National M&E Plan on HIV).
In this way UNAIDS promotes an approach in which everyone works in alignment with the national response as detailed in the Strategy. Del Prado said no one needs to die of the HIV infection. The infection can destroy the body’s ability to fight off infection and disease which can ultimately lead to AIDS and death and, while anti-retroviral drugs do not eliminate the infection it can slow replication of the virus and greatly enhance the quality of life.