by Curlan Campbell, NOW Grenada
Policy makers are being reminded of the significant role that people living with HIV and AIDS can play in ensuring that the ambitious target of ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030 is realised.
Secretary of the Caribbean Regional Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS, Devon Gabourel sounded this call as he addressed the plight of those infected and affected by HIV.
CRN+ is a pan-regional organisation based in Trinidad and Tobago that is dedicated to supporting people infected with HIV through advocacy, research, partnership, capacity building, and resource mobilisation.
Mr Gabourel was among a team representing CRN+ who visited Grenada, coinciding with activities to mark World AIDS day recognised worldwide on 1 December.
The group met with officials from key stakeholders including the Ministry of Health, NGOs, and other civil society organisations, all with the aim of raising awareness on this important issue. They also took part in activities to at this year’s World AIDS Day Expo held at Camerhogne Park on Friday.
“If you are having a response that says we must stop the further transmission of HIV and bring an end to it, it cannot be done in a vacuum that is free, that is totally sterilized of the people who you are trying to reach, and so our role at CRN+ is to remind our policy makers as well as our actors and various agencies of change, that there is a role for persons living with HIV in your response, and that the most powerful advocate you can get in any response to HIV is the disempowered persons living with HIV, and that persons living with HIV are not inept — we can plan, we can organize, and we can set strategies moving forward,” Gaboural said.
He went on to say that CRN+ can boast of a number of achievements since its inception. “We were the first regional network in the world to achieve full Global Fund funding… the very first; nobody else has done that before… it has been the first to organize a group of positive persons around a common principle… that calls for the greater dignity of people living with HIV in your response.”
Chairperson of the Double Positive Foundation Ethel Pengel says she has been living with HIV for the past 34 years and has not taken any medication since testing positive in 1983.
Ms Pengel, who resides in Suriname, was able to defy the odds as her CD4 cell count continues to remain high, with her viral load still undetectable. She attributes her healthy lifestyle and positive outlook on life for allowing her to live medication-free.
“When HIV came into my life [it] brought another philosophy for me. I start[ed] looking for information… the information that was there for me was to change my life. I started to live healthy, eat healthy and thinking positive, and today a lot of people I support in my country”.
The 65–year–old woman is now empowering HIV positive people who are victims of discrimination, to stand up and let their voices be heard.
“My philosophy is — don’t sit in the dark… self-stigma kills a lot of persons living with HIV. We have to come out the closet with that, and it starts with you.”