NFPB ambassadors championing change in treatment of persons with HIV
Medical doctor Mario Evon Guthrie speaks during a recent Jamaica Information Service (JIS) 'Think Tank' about the National Family Planning Board (NFPB) Champions for Change Campaign. (Photo: JIS)

A 2019 National Family Planning Board (NFPB) study found that 53 per cent of persons living with HIV report that their status makes them feel uncomfortable, consequent on stigma and discrimination that is meted out to this cohort.

Speaking during a recent Jamaica Information Service (JIS) Think Tank, NFPB Champions for Change Ambassador Dr Mario Evon Guthrie highlighted some of the existing and potential challenges for persons with HIV.

"Someone will not want to go to a pharmacy to get health care or sit in a waiting room in a space where they know that people are being treated [for] HIV because, once you are in that waiting room, people will automatically assume that you are [HIV-] positive," the medical professional said.

Dr Guthrie is one of three Champions for Change ambassadors who have been engaged by the NFPB in a campaign against the stigma and discrimination that is meted out to persons living with HIV.

He pointed out that as a medical doctor he has patients with HIV who speak with him daily about the challenges they experience in the health-care industry.

"They talk about trying to get medication, trying to disclose their status to their families, trying to get jobs, trying to function in a normal way in society," Dr Guthrie shared.

He added that he is, sometimes, the only person who knows their status because they feel uncomfortable sharing it with others.

The Champions for Change ambassador said it is important for him to be a voice of compassion and love, "so that I can really speak on their behalf and encourage people to show love".

The physician, who is also a creative and a musician, explained that a large part of the campaign is encouraging well-thinking Jamaicans to be that voice that will speak up on behalf of those who feel vulnerable.

"So we have the Champions [for Change initiative] but every one of you out there is a champion - and you should actually be that voice. You should stop people from bullying [persons with HIV] and discriminating [against them]," Dr Guthrie said.

"Encourage love [and] compassion. Be a brother, be a sister, be someone who truly cares for others as HIV will not be transmitted through a hug. So, let's all be that champion for change and let's all show love in all that we do," he further emphasised.

The NFPB Champions for Change campaign, which began as a six-week project in June 2023, has evolved into an ongoing effort, with the three ambassadors agreeing to continue their advocacy efforts beyond the original time frame.

The others are attorney-at-law and human rights advocate Donna Parchment Brown, and marketer/entertainer Dimario McDowell.

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