World AIDS Day will be a celebration to unite people in the fight against HIV
In a country of approximately 353,000 people, 12,095 people (6,606 males and 5,489 females) have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS over a 25-year span, since official record-keeping began in August. The numbers diagnosed with the disease are up to December 31, 2010.
On Thursday, December 1, there will be a worldwide celebration to unite people in the fight against HIV, and to show support for people living with HIV/AIDS, and to commemorate people who have died. Worlds AIDS Day was the first ever global health day. The first one was held in 1988.
This year’s World AIDS Day will be celebrated under the theme “Getting to Zero”, with the goal of zero new infections, zero deaths as a result of AIDS complications and zero mother to child transmissions.
In The Bahamas, hundreds of school children will gather at Government House’s lower grounds at 9 a.m. to form a human red ribbon in recognition. This will be the sixth year of the ribbon formation.
“We’re hoping to have at least 200 students, but the more the better, because the thicker [the ribbon], the nicer it is,” said Bahamas AIDS Foundation president, Camille Barnett. The Foundation works in partnership with the Red Cross in the venture — they provide the students, and the AIDS Foundation provides the buses.
With the ribbon formation at Government House this year, it is Barnett’s aim to have people look at the picture of the human red ribbon and recognize a landmark familiar to Bahamians. The first two years, the human ribbon was formed in Rawson Square. The next two years it was at Fort Charlotte and last year it was at Clifton Heritage National Park.
“World AIDS Day is chosen to remind people, and sensitize people about HIV and AIDS and to educate them about what HIV/AIDS is and isn’t, how you catch it and how you can’t catch it,” said Barnett. “And education is such an important part of what we do, because HIV is entirely preventable, but if people don’t change their behavior patterns, then we will continuously have a problem with HIV and AIDS.”
Barnett also wants people who are HIV/AIDS positive to be free to say that they are.
Right now there is no face of HIV and AIDS in The Bahamas because people are reluctant to come forward and identify themselves as having HIV, so the hope is that if we remove the stigma and the discrimination and the barriers and misconceptions that people will be able to feel free to come forward, just like people who are diabetic and they say I’m diabetic and I take my medicine. I’ve got high blood pressure and I take my medicine. It’s the same way that we envision people who are HIV positive should be able to stand up and say I’m HIV positive and I take my medicine and I feel good. They should not be treated any differently than those other persons who have chronic illnesses.”
For one 22-year-old young woman who has been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, and wants to remain anonymous, World AIDS Day doesn’t mean much.
“The people that should come together are the people that are positive,” says the young lady. “The people that are positive aren’t checking and aren’t doing anything to better themselves, or to educate themselves. People who aren’t positive are the ones who care,” she said.
Globally it is estimated that 33.3 million people have HIV. And that more than 25 million people between 1981 and 2007 have died from the virus,
making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history.
World AIDS Day is a day Nurse Sabrina Sweeting, who is attached to the mother to child transmission section of the AIDS Secretariat, who works with pregnant mothers who are infected with HIV/AIDS is glad people will commemorate as she hopes people take a more humanistic approach to the people who are afflicted with the disease. It is that approach that she takes to her job. She says they not only treat the disease with medication, but the whole person, including meeting some of their patient’s socio-economic needs by purchasing grocery items and bottled milk for babies as they encourage positive mothers not to breastfeed.
“We don’t look at our patients as a number, but as indiviudals who may need counseling — especially children who have this virus — not through actions of their own, so they may be angry and may not understand the situation and are going through normal hormonal changes in their teenage years.”
Through her job she says she has noticed that sometimes people just need someone they can talk to, and as such they have created an atmosphere where their patients can feel comforatable. They can call on them at any time — day or night — if they have any problems and need some assistance.” Nurse Sweeting says her patients feel the love.
In the course of her work, the nurse says she does not discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation because she wants everyone to come in, get tested and get the proper medical attention. She says many people fail to come in so that they can know their status because they don’t feel comfortable and feel that people will talk. At the center where she works, she says the staff are strictly confidential.
With increased education and less stigma and discrimination towards people with AIDS/HIV, Nurse Sweeting says people with the disease may be more willing to go into care, which is why she really likes this year’s theme and it’s goal of getting to zero.
There have been many scientific advances made in HIV treatment. In The Bahamas, the fight against HIV/AIDS has shown a decline in newly reported HIV infections; a decline in new AIDS cases; decline in AIDS reported deaths and a drastic decline in HIV transmissions from mother to child from 30 percent in 1995 to two percent in 2006, according to statistics by The Ministry of Health and Social Development.
The report noted that there are still challenges, and that adolescents and young adults were the fastest growing group of HIV infections.
While the medical community understands so much more about the condition, most people do not know the facts about how to protect themselves and others from HIV, and stigma and discrimination remain a reality for many people living with HIV.
World AIDS Day reminds the public and government that HIV has not gone away and that there is still a vital need to raise money, increase awareness, fight prejudice and improve education.
The day provides an opportunity for people to learn the facts about HIV — how it is transmitted, how it can be prevented and the reality of living with HIV — and how to put the knowledge into action by taking care of their own health and the health of others. As the day is celebrated, people should ensure that they treat everyone living with HIV fairly and with respect and understanding.
Support for people living with HIV can be shown by wearing a red ribbon, the international symbol of HIV awareness on Thursday, December 1.