(Castries, November 30, 2012) Every year, December 1 is commemorated as the World AIDS Day. Hundreds of advocates, leaders and communities around the world dedicate the day to activities and events to cherish the memories of those who battled with the disease, to celebrate progress achieved in the global response to HIV and re-commit to keep the promise to create an AIDS free generation.
Today, around the world, we commemorate Worlds AIDS Day under the theme “Getting to Zero”, by acknowledging the advances made in the care and treatment of those living with HIV and prevention of those affected. We remember with regret the lives of many who have passed, our family, friends and colleagues who are all infected or affected by this epidemic. This campaign brings together like-minded supporters to advocate for education and outreach, testing and treatment all over Saint Lucia in the communities that need it most.
This month, the human rights advocacy group United and Strong took the message to the public, in areas such as the Blue Coral Mall, Caribbean Cinemas, JQ Rodney Bay Mall, Baywalk Mall and the Headphunk performance in Samaans Park. Volunteers distributed free sexual and reproductive health aids and information. It continues at the testing day in Baywalk Mall in Rodney Bay and in Vieux Fort on December 1.
The sale of red ribbons, the global symbol for the fight against HIV/AIDS, was central to the effort. These red ribbons remind that we as a NATION need to SAY NO to stigma and discrimination, SAY NO to new cases of HIV/STI infections and SAY NO to any more AIDS-related deaths.
United and Strong Inc. stands in solidarity with the AIDS Action Foundation, Caribbean HIV/AIDS Alliance, the Red Cross, the Ministry of Health, National AIDS Programme Secretariat, Saint Lucia Planned Parent Hood and Tender Loving Care, commending their bravery and commitment to a world without HIV/AIDS and a Caribbean where social justice is a reality. Advocates and activists here in St Lucia, the Caribbean and the globe take a bow for leading the struggle to eliminate stigma, discrimination and inequality. We are proud to have worked in conjunction with many of these individuals and the above organisations through the years, and look forward to continued collaborations.
Rights come with personal responsibility and the call for every individual to do their part continues to be a priority. Victimisation and inequality are a reality many still face today. Stigma and discrimination is called natural; stereotyping and violence is called cultural; as is the mockery of gay men and lesbian women, whose private lives, especially their sexuality, are put on trial. These actions and speech affects everyone, preventing access of some individuals to certain services.
People are not finding out their HIV status due to stigma around testing; they fear of gaps in the system and the breaches of confidentially. This is simply unacceptable. Government needs to follow through on our commitment to provide access to prevention and treatment to everyone, everywhere. There is nothing moral about hate, discrimination, marginalisation, violence or pain.
We need to recognize the fundamental human rights of every single person. Civil society groups need to maintain the lead, along with government, to continue the fight and revitalize all mechanisms to provide information, education and skills to all sectors. In order to get to zero new infections, there must be mobilised efforts and collaboration to demand access to treatment and medication; create safe environments for HIV positive people to disclose their status; and funding to ensure equity in HIV prevention, treatment, and care services for all people living with HIV, particularly the under privileged, who represent a high percentage of new infections.
We continue to raise the consciousness of the masses as we know we will all feel the cry in the future; infected or affected, we all feel it. Let us put aside hate and hypocrisy, and work in the best interest of our country. There is nothing moral about hypocritically allowing or encouraging these violations to continue. Information has taught us even if we are not infected we are all affected personally, economically, national development and health. Too many people are naive and laid-back today. This is a great opportunity for advocates and organizations to remind their representatives that we’re watching them on HIV/AIDS funding and care. Elected officials need to show that they understand the urgency of the need here, or voters will hold them accountable prevention and treatment aren’t optional.
However we must also call on the leaders of St Lucia and anyone else who has the power to make a change, to wake up! The question is no longer can we end the AIDS epidemic, but will we end the AIDS epidemic? The time is now. The time is here. Tomorrow starts now.
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