The reality of HIV and AIDS

Twenty –eight years after the first case was recognized in Trinidad and Tobago, HIV remains the most stigmatized and taboo health challenge in this beloved twin island state. It is now well-documented that discrimination leads to the abuse of the rights of those at risk of, or living with HIV and by extension, the continued transmission of this sexually transmitted infection.
Multiple channels have been used to ensure that consistent messages are delivered and reinforced but it is still much easier to say, “I am a cancer patient,” or “I am diabetic” than to say, “I am living with HIV”. Why?  What is it in our complex society that seems to encourage fear and despair in those who long for a better social environment?
The spirit which follows the words of most well-wishers in the HIV response is transparently hypocritical. To this day, HIV remains a gravy train for the self-centered who speak as though they have lived squeaky clean lives as reason why they have not contracted the infection. As far as they are concerned, those who have HIV have been involved in immoral behavior and are even wicked to have had or even desire to have children.
Haven’t you heard them at forums (fora)? Without being asked their status, they always state” I am not HIV positive!” No one asked them. Why do they always make such a statement? Behind closed doors, or in dark allies and fancy high rise hotels these hypocrites may seek out pleasure in unimaginable ways. Some of them may perform sexual acts which the HIV positive person has never done or may ever do. However, they continue to point a finger in judgment, stating clearly that they are not HIV positive.
Another concern is to hear HIV positive persons speaking as if their positive status is a distinction which entitles them to feed off of others. We of VON-OC wish to remind each person with HIV that you are a human being with the capacity to live creatively and purpose driven. It is time to let go of self-pity. Most people really do-not care about your sorrow when they are burdened by their own. You are capable of being uniquely productive.  You need not underrate yourself, subtly looking for sympathy from others. Every individual has challenges but each of us has the capacity to be an Overcomer.
It is because we recognize that you can overcome any challenge that we wish to alert you to the factors which lead to vulnerability and to the continued spread of this infection, especially in rural communities. The heart of this problem is a problem of the heart. The question being asked here is who or what has conditioned your heart? Once conditioned, can the heart reflect a different message? We of VON-OC believe that it can, if it is reconditioned.
Recently, we started gathering data in the rural districts of Trinidad and our findings are quite surprising. In an age of HIV information overload, people still are not clear about how HIV and other sexually transmitted infections are transmitted or the importance of testing to know their status. People seem not to believe that the abuse of alcohol and other mind-altering substances are gateways to risky behaviors’ that could lead to contracting an STI (sexually transmitted infection); increased domestic violence against women and children and unwanted pregnancy. A pregnant woman’s intake of drugs can have disastrous effects on fetal development. Some of us fail to understand that lack of self-esteem is a major contributing factor not only to contracting an STI but also results in a range of other social ills that includes gang warfare.
Too many ‘gate-keepers’ are merely motivated to maintain their power, wealth and perceived prestige”. The Bible reminds us that Jesus railed against the Pharisees who put love of self before service to others. What contribution are you making in your community today?  Is your community strengthened by your efforts at building relationships or is it more divided?  Caribbean liberator and activist, Marcus Mosiah Garvey put it this way:
The ends you serve which are selfish will take you no further than yourself;
              But the ends you serve which are for all, in common, will take you into infinity.
 When you allow yourself to be negatively influenced away from serving others, your family and by extension, the community is left vulnerable to destructive elements. We need to return to the innocence of children. Recently, a few 5-7 year old children were sitting under a shady tree in the Savannah. Of African and Indian descent, they were sitting like little angels safe from the sun, sharing their snacks with each other, caught up in the joy of each other’s company on a hot day. Regrettably, this scenario will definitely change as they grow older, influenced by the racial biases of their own parents, teachers, religious institutions and community leaders. When we look at children playing, we need to reflect on that state of purity when all we knew was that we were human and that this girl or that boy was our friend. 
When last did you talk to a young person in your area about the effects of low-self-esteem and drug consumption or the precious time being wasted in unprofitable activity at street corners or in parlors and rum shops?  When last did you have a conversation about developing our nation with a bright future for our children? Are your various clubs, groups, institutions working together to create a better social environment for all our children? When last did you speak to them about sex and sexually transmitted infections?
As Director of VON-OC, I have spoken to many community stakeholders and I have recognized that most of our traditional norms and values are creating huge problems for our children and for the future of this beloved country of ours. Over-competitiveness; conspicuous consumption, greed and prejudice can be overcome. The heart must be reconditioned.  We need to reclaim our innocence. We must ignore the forces that encourage us to stigmatize and discriminate against each other thereby successfully dividing us. Instead, let us strive to build solidarity with each other. More importantly, let us remember the power of love.  Just what is this love my friend? It is definitely more than a feeling; it is a conscious choice, an act of will. When we believe it is mere emotion, we easily practice stigmatization and discrimination towards anything or anyone that we have been conditioned to believe is different from ourselves.
Love is the antidote to HIV stigma and discrimination and other societal ills. It cannot be killed by time, disease or disaster and it cannot be brought for any price, it is freely given. Love is a priceless gift from God which may be shared within the guidelines He provides. Accept the love of and by your spouse as His gift and strive to make your actions a reflection of the perfect love that comes from God Himself.
In closing, we invite you to light a candle for someone who has died of AIDS or light one as your commitment to burn away misinformed opinion, fear, stigmatization, discrimination and the biggest and most destructive infection of them all the “better than syndrome”. We invite you to do so at our Candlelight Memorial observance on Sunday 15th May 2011 at our Reformation and Transformation Centre, situated at # 56 Railway Road, Dow Village, California. While there, you will learn more about how to prevent yourself and your loved ones from contracting the infection or how to become a volunteer of support for the infected and immediately affected for whom you may wish to become a source of accurate, unbiased, empowering  information.
If you are unable to attend, maybe you can do so at a site nearer to you. We invite you to light a candle at home or on the job in respectful acknowledgement of those who have passed on and those who still continue to contribute to the eventual eradication of HIV. Come join us as we celebrate the 28th International Candlelight Memorial 2011: “Touching Lives…Lifting the Standard.” Light a candle to burn away misinformed opinions, fear, stigma, discrimination, denial and other social facts that facilitate the unwanted discord among the human family and the continued transmission of this sexually transmitted infection.
Data box:
Data collected from the month of January 2011 to the month of April 2011. This data was collected from residents of rural communities in the county of Caroni.
The participants were professionals, students, and ordinary community persons.
The total number of participants 18 years old and under, none younger than 14 = 348
The total number of participants 19 years and older =250
The instrument used to collect the data was a questioner design to test the following:

    • Knowledge about HIV
  • Personal risk factor

In the adult group 35% of the participants scored 25 and under, with 2% getting zero (0) and 0.4% getting a high score of 47.
In the youth group 64% of the participants scored 25 and under, with 0.86% scoring the lowest of 3 and 0.59% getting a high score 37.
The question, would you like to have an HIV test? Showed that 30% of the participants said “NO” and 30% saying yes, but 40% of the respondents are fearful, uncertain.
Wishing you a thought-provoking observance,
The Voice of One-Overcomers Club, serving since 2001. You can contact us at 1-868-679-6747 or 1-868-781-1275; or Email us: von_oc@yahoo.com. To facilitate training workshops or sensitization/lectures sessions, referrals for appropriate services, counseling, or just become a member.
To influence a better social environment, silence is not an option.
Anderson Figaro
Founder/Director