In 2001, Prime Minister Owen Arthur signaled the high priority he placed on the HIV/AIDS fight by assuming responsibility for the co-ordination of the national HIV/AIDS programme. The Prime Minister has kept the fight on the national agenda by setting up a National HIV/AIDS Commission to advise on policy and co-ordinate the national programme to deal with this disease. At the last National Public/Private Sector Consultation in October, Arthur called on the private sector and civil society to step up their efforts so that there could be “full national participation” in the response to the deadly disease.
He stressed that HIV/AIDS mitigation had become primarily a state-sponsored programme, but its impact was felt across every industry – therefore the fight had to extend beyond the public sector. Arthur said prevention had to be promoted as a “public good”, and therefore financed as such. The Prime Minister said he supported the business coalition model, but called for more civil society coalitions and other mechanisms to be employed in the fight.
Source: Nation Newspaper
In 2001, when Prime Minister Arthur assumed responsibility for the fight against HIV/AIDS, BU had mixed feelings. We felt a sense of satisfaction that this disease, which has the potential to destroy our small country would be targeted with all the necessary resources to ensure its spread was limited. On the other hand, we had a sneaky suspicion that the busy agenda of our Prime Minister might short-change the effort required to lead a successful campaign to mitigate the spread of AIDS/HIV. The National HIV/AIDS Commission was established under the Chairperson of the eminent Dr. Carol Jacobs. When the commission was formed, we had high hopes for its work in helping the epidemic. This was based on the expertise of the people assigned to the commission, and their professional access to the resources that would be required to start the battle against the lifestyle change, in a society that has developed a reputation of being very promiscuous.
Imagine our horror when we read the BACK page of the Sunday Sun of 23 September 2007, with the headline “Unsafe Sex”. The article quoted a leading sexually transmitted infections (STI) specialist, Dr. Vijaya Thani as saying, “Barbados maybe losing the battle against the spread of sexually transmitted infections among the youth.” Before we examine what the doctor had to say, it is important that we establish the credibility of Dr. Thani as someone authorized to speak on the subject of AIDS/HIV and its related issues.
It was reported that the goodly doctor has been treating STIs for about 15 years. She has been involved with abstinence training programmes, working with the National HIV/AIDS Commission for 5 years, servicing about 30 primary schools where the target audience was children ranging from ages 9 to 11.
BU prefer to listen to the people in the trenches when evaluating the fight against AIDS/HIV and related STIs, rather than listen to Dr. Carol Jacobs and her army of “women” employed at the AIDS/HIV Commission’s peddling statistics to sell us a view. We take note that Dr. Jacobs, for her good work done in Barbados in the fight against AIDS/HIV, she has received worldwide recognition by her appointment as Chair to the United Nations Global Fund Committee. If the Chairperson of our National HIV/AIDS Commission is receiving international recognition, we should be able to conclude that Barbados has arrested the spread of the disease, right? Not according to Dr. Vijaya Thani. The doctor in her interview with Sanka Price of the Nation Newspaper did not limit her concern to the AIDS/HIV pandemic, but revealed her concern about the ignorance that our youth still have about the dangers of a promiscuous lifestyle.
Her most insightful and disturbing comment was:
These 14-year-olds are having sex because they hear about this thing, and it’s real sweet. At that age, they are not thinking beyond that. Their thinking processes are not developed. They don’t understand the consequences of intercourse; they’re looking at going into intercourse as being part of the crowd, and some of the same kids that are telling them to have intercourse have not even tried it,” she said.
STIs apart, the doctor is very perturbed about the number of pregnant teens – 14 years old – that she sees, and the high volume who have been raped. Police statistics, she contended, did not reflect these numbers as most were not reported.
The above statement is the most disturbing of all made by Dr.Thani. We accept that she is using data collected from her practice; also her interaction with young audiences in her capacity as a professional working for the AIDS Commission. When we marry this to her intuition which has been honed by years of experience as a STI expert, we have to listen with respect to what she has to say. This situation reminds us of the pronouncement of Dr. Slosberg (not sure if we got his name correct) many years ago, in the face of opposition from the established medical professionals: Mickey Walrond, Yvette Delph et al, who denied the rate of HIV/AIDS infections when it started to raise its head in the 80’s. We want to applaud Sanka Price of the Nation for highlighting this important information. It is noteworthy that Barbadians did not feel the inclination to discuss this matter on any of our call-in programmes, today (23.09.07).
In a nutshell, we can summarize Dr.Thani’s observations to mean, the expensive education HIV/AIDS programmes that have been put in place for several years now are failing.
Another area of concern for Barbadians was identified in the Tony Best column of 2006 titled, Costly Price Tag. He made the point that the cost of the ART (Anti-retroviral therapy) drugs are very expensive. Barbados is known to have drawn on a World Bank USD15.5 million dollar loan to support the drug bill required to limit the spread of HIV/AIDS. Simple arithmetic says that as long as the HIV/AIDS disease continues to race out of control like a runaway freight train, there is the burgeoning financial headache which the government of Barbados will have to address. A price tag cannot be placed on the health of a nation. However, our concern remains that of the millions spent so far to fight the HIV/AIDS disease, there is little evidence that the growth in the disease especially in the youth segment has dipped.
It seems that Barbadians are disposed to hold Prime Minister Arthur to account on economic matters only. The fact that he has taken control of the AIDS fight dating back to 2001 has never been made an issue by the Opposition of Barbados or the media, given the constant rise in the HIV/AIDS trend over the years. Barbadians continue to remain passive as the social well being of our island continues to slip into the cesspool. There are many critical issues which our country should address as a matter of urgency, yet we say and do nothing as the spin doctors continue to bamboozle us with statistics.
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