The importance of zero
Learning to make wiser decisions when it comes to sex is what Anatol Rodgers twelfth grade student, Dorral Pratt hoped his peers took away from a World AIDS Day School assembly, held at the school’s gymnasium on Tuesday.
The 17-year-old says he is well aware of the dangers of having unprotected sex, and urges his peers to practice abstinence or learn how to correctly use protection, so they will not add to the increasing 12,000-plus diagnosed HIV and AIDS cases in The Bahamas.
Zero new Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infections, zero discrimination, zero Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) deaths and accomplishing all of this by 2015, was the message that Pratt and students from a number of schools around New Providence received in preparation for World AIDS Day on Thursday, December 1.
“Getting to Zero” is the United Nations AIDS Division’s (UNAIDS) theme for this year’s celebration, and Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health officials said it was important to put that message to the student population if the theme is to truly be realized.
Jade Thurston, a fellow 17-year-old twelfth grader at Anatol Rodgers, said she hopes many young people her age left the assembly understanding why AIDS and HIV are so deadly.
“We always hear about young people being infected with AIDS and I realize that there are things we can do, and I think this assembly was a good way to let the whole student population and other schools know how serious this thing is,” said Thurston. “Unsafe sex, which I know is the main cause of AIDS, is not the only worry we should be having. We have babies being born, and it’s worse if they have AIDS too. I think it is important to really get to the young people so they know what can happen and they take it seriously.”
Getting to zero is more than just about getting the country and the world to a point where there are no more new AIDS infections, according to Ross Smith, superintendant for high school curriculum. He said it is also about being able to provide persons with AIDS and HIV all the medication they need to eliminate AIDS-related deaths.
“It is about being able to get the level of awareness about AIDS to a point where people can understand it isn’t a plague, and just like society is accepting of things like heart disease, diabetes and cancer, so should AIDS also be seen. Since AIDS is no longer a death sentence with what is happening today… the stigma associated with the illness needs to be eliminated. This is why it is important for awareness to start with the younger generation, so their thinking can be altered and they can be the real movers in this,” said Smith.
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.
Smith told the students that all nations should now be working together at this pivotal moment in history, as the number of people being infected with the disease outpace the number of persons starting treatment. According to statistics only one-third of the people living with HIV to date have the lifelong treatment they need to live. It is with this reality that UNAIDS urges nations to take a stand and make the elimination of this epidemic a global priority. It is hoped that every nation aims to promote one or more of the “Getting to Zero” goals per year until 2015 when it is anticipated that AIDS will finally be globally managed.
If students can be aware, protect themselves and be supportive of their brothers, Smith said the country would make strides in controlling and eventually eliminating AIDS in The Bahamas. The biggest challenge he sees is that people are not supportive and willing to view AIDS as just another illness that can be managed. But he said more young people needed to play their part and protect themselves.
HIV/AIDS Centre Acting Manager, Marva Jervis, says controlling AIDS is entirely possible, but young people need to be aware of what is happening in the country and worldwide with the disease. The hardest hit group, she says, has been people between the age of 15 and 44. She says school assemblies where students are spoken to are perfect, because they force young people to be aware of what is happening.
“They are bombarded with so much sexuality in the media. Whether it’s to sell a car or perfume, the underlying message is usually sex. We need to arm the young people so they can appropriately deal with all the things they are bombarded with. They need to know, be open-minded, and prevent themselves from acquiring the disease, and be supportive of those who do have it.”
10-point United Nations AIDS Division’s (UNAIDS) goals to accomplish by 2015
• Sexual transmission of HIV reduced by half, including among young people, men who have sex with men and transmission in the context of sex work.
• Vertical transmission of HIV eliminated and AIDS-related maternal deaths reduced by half.
• All new HIV infections prevented among people who use drugs.
• Universal access to antiretroviral therapy for people living with HIV who are eligible for treatment;
• Tuberculosis (TB) deaths among people living with HIV reduced by half.
• All people living with HIV and households affected by HIV are addressed in all national, social protection strategies and have access to essential care and support.
• Countries with punitive laws and practices around HIV transmission, sex work, drug use or homosexuality that block effective responses reduced by half.
• HIV-related restrictions on entry, stay and residence eliminated in half of the countries that have such restrictions.
• HIV-specific needs of women and girls are addressed in at least half of all national HIV responses.
• Zero tolerance for gender-based violence.