Community leadership stressed as key in fight against HIV/AIDS
The Jamaica Network of Seropositives on Friday hosted a forum for World AIDS Day to commemorate the lives of individuals living with HIV/AIDS and to acknowledge the efforts of social communities in the battle against the disease.
Hosted at Summit (formerly Knutsford Court Hotel) in Kingston, the forum adopted a new approach, diverging from the usual 7:00 am breakfast format of previous years. Centred on the theme ‘Reimagining and Transforming the HIV Response through the Lens of Communities’, the event emphasised the significance of community-driven projects and the empowering role of communities in leading the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Executive director for the Jamaica Network of Seropositives, Jumoke Patrick, emphasised, during his short speech, the importance of giving communities the opportunity to lead, noting the impact this perspective can have in the fight against AIDS.
“Allowing communities to lead ensures that responses to the HIV are grounded in personal experiences, personal knowledge and understanding. Communities possess invaluable insights into their unique challenges, cultural nuances, and the most effective ways to address HIV-related issues within their specific context,” he said.
Patrick, who is also the chair of the Civil Society Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Health, also mentioned that community leadership can be a catalyst for wider social change, strengthening the fight against stigma and discrimination associated with HIV.
He said, “Communities vary widely in terms of demographics, resources, and challenges related to HIV. Allowing communities to lead acknowledges this diversity and recognises that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Tailoring responses to the specific needs of each community ensures a more effective and targeted response.”
Executive director of the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition, Ivan Cruickshank, reinforced Patrick’s message, imploring policymakers and project managers to not underestimate the potential impact community leadership can have in transforming HIV and the general health landscape.
“Within the CCM [Country Coordinating Mechanism] we have seen communities demonstrate in very clear terms how the HIV response in Jamaica should be guided. They have brought to the table information, data, and their own lived experiences and brought that to bare on the decisions we make about the programmes that we shape for them and that has been instrumental to some of the changes that we have seen, whether it is in our cascade, in our reach, in the length of time people are able to live and the way that people adhere to their medication,” he said.
Meanwhile, multi-country director for UNAIDS, Dr Richard Amenyah, gave a short and passionate speech pleading with governments to increase efforts to educate people on AIDS in order to fight stigma against HIV patients.
“Reliable information is important; people are showing up late in our clinics. Forty per cent of people who are newly initiated on treatment are coming in late. The message is stigma, stigma, stigma! How do we remove stigma as a barrier? How do we encourage people to show up in our clinics?” Amenyah questioned during his speech.
He emphasised that no one should die of AIDS in this day and age, stressing the importance of collaboration between government bodies and communities to address issues around stigma and collaboration.
Wife of the governor general, Lady Patricia Allen, who was also in attendance, spoke to the dangers of discrimination by health officials and trained professionals.
While reflecting on her time spent as a nurse she mentioned, “In nursing we are taught not to judge our patients. Our job is not to know how you got the disease but how to make you whole again. So the stigma is something that people who have even been trained still displayed, and many times AIDS patients are neglected and people are afraid to wash them and to take care of them.”