EDITORIAL: HIV/AIDS stigma still major hurdle
It was 30 years ago that the probable cause of AIDS was discovered. At that time it was being predicted by some that a vaccine to provide a cure would be available within two years. That was not science but merely wishful thinking.
The retrovirus uncovered by researchers and later named HIV, provided a new challenge for virologists who simply did not know how to treat this new disease. HIV/AIDS became known as “a gay lifestyle disease” while unkind and inhumane remarks were made against anyone who came down with this illness. The disease brought out the worst traits in mankind.
We are weeks away from a national observation of World AIDS Day when we reflect on all that has happened to people affected by this terrible disease. It will also be a time to look at all the challenges HIV/AIDS has brought with it. Most importantly, there will be the hope that a cure will at last be found.
Today, HIV/AIDS is still here and while there have been advances in research and medicine which show how the disease is contracted and how it can be treated, it no longer carries the same homophobic label. So millions are living with the disease, and they enjoy relatively normal lives thanks to the cocktail of available drugs. Administrations in Barbados have come to recognise that it is an issue which must be dealt with on a national level given the disease’s potential to undermine the entire society.
Fortunately, we now have many people in Barbados who know their HIV/AIDS status and there can be hope for them. It is also true that there are many people from various age groups who are living with the disease but don’t know they are infected.
The story in last week’s MIDWEEK NATION which highlighted the plight of Marcelle Cheeseman, a woman living with AIDS, and the discrimination she has been encountering, tells a lot about us as a people and our lack of care and compassion. While there has been some reduction in the ignorance and fear about HIV, it is evident the many hurdles facing victims of the disease in Barbados: denied and fired from jobs, housing and the outright refusal of services.
The reaction to her 30 years later says that despite the efforts by governments and the significant role of the National HIV/AIDS Commission, there is still an uphill battle to treat and cure this disease. We may need some legal protection for HIV/AIDS victims.
Miss Cheeseman has been courageous to speak about her plight. On the other hand, other sufferers may simply stay in the shadows, avoiding treatment for the disease and possibly creating additional problems. We still have a long way to go in the fight against HIV/AIDS.