In a recent installment of The AIDS Pandemic, Tamar Odle described the stigmatization of homosexuals and people living with HIV/AIDS in Jamaica. As she reported, the discrimination against homosexuals stems from deep-rooted cultural beliefs and values. And this discrimination against homosexuals has increased the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS in this country.
Recently, Kwame Dawes, a poet and professor at the University of South Carolina, reported in The Washington Post on the current state of people living with HIV/AIDS in Jamaica. With funding from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, the Jamaican government has been able to supply free or low-cost antiretroviral drugs to many Jamaicans living with HIV/AIDS. But public perception of HIV/AIDS remains a problem. And because of this public perception, adequate treatment remains an issue.
A young HIV+ Jamaican woman, Annesha Taylor, became the face of successful treatment. The government used her story in various ad campaigns to show people that it now was possible to live with HIV. But according to Dr. Dawes, when she became pregnant, “her role as the campaign’s public ambassador was over.” The story is poignant and telling. Despite our scientific understanding of the virus and the growing number of antiretroviral drugs at our disposal, stigma, misunderstanding, distrust, and fear remain the biggest obstacles to preventing new infections and treating those already infected.
I encourage you to read Dr. Dawes’ piece.
I also encourage you to read and listen to his moving poetry on HIV/AIDS in Jamaica at www.livehopelove.com.
His trips to Jamaica have been supported in part by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
Until next time, I’m Dave Wessner.