Positive Feedback from Active Participants in HIV Anti-Stigma Campaign

Five months ago the Ministry of Health launched a campaign, which sought to build awareness and lessen the stigma and discrimination that affect persons living with HIV/AIDS.
Anneisha Taylor and Ainsley Reid, both active in the ‘Getting on with Life’ HIV anti-stigma campaign, helped in bringing a human face to the message.
“The role that I played in the anti-stigma campaign was to use my voice and face, to make known that people living with HIV are humans, and we are getting on with life,” Mr. Reid tells JIS News in a recent interview.
“When I say we are getting on with life, I mean that we are living our lives like any other human being. In other words, we are getting married, going to school, making families and we are hard working people,” he adds.
Mr. Reid says that by using that kind of experience, “we are hoping that more people would be made aware that people living with HIV are not just another group of people who we need to throw out of the society, but we need to embrace all persons, irrespective of their health status”.
He sees his role as very important in the fight against stigma and discrimination, as he serves as an example to the public of someone who is living with the disease.
“I think the role that I am playing in the anti-stigma campaign is really making a difference. It is really making a difference because the response that I am getting from people in the community, from people I meet in the plazas, the supermarkets, has been very encouraging. The response is not only just from Jamaicans, but also from right across the Caribbean,” he adds.
“I was at a workshop for journalists in Trinidad and the response for me was through the roof. I was so excited to hear people say they would like to have some programme of this nature in their country, as stigma and discrimination is still at an unacceptable level,” Mr. Reid says.
He also points to the good responses he has had from persons who are intrigued by his life and the fact that he is living with HIV.
“I think people on hearing that Ainsley has HIV will assume how he contracts it, they will assume all kinds of stuff, so I choose as a person living with HIV to look at the positive, embrace the positive, and learning from the negative. I think that people see me on the street, and will ask some questions, people are also curious, how did you contract this and I think the responsibility is mine to be honest, to be open, to be frank,” he says.
Mr. Reid says he believes that the campaign is not just about a “handsome face in the media, but it is also about helping people to get more acquainted with somebody who is really living with HIV”.
The campaign encompasses many channels, including brochures, billboards, television and radio advertisements, and seminars in which both Mr. Reid and Miss Taylor are involved.
Meanwhile, Miss Taylor explains that in the campaign, she is involved in sensitizing people about HIV. “Basically, persons who are HIV positive, they have their rights to life and they have their rights to privacy,” she says.
Miss Taylor has been able to influence members of the public who have been very receptive to her message and involvement in the campaign.
“There have been good responses, as I have not been discriminated against and there’s a lot of love,” she notes.
For other persons living with HIV, Miss Taylor and Mr. Reid serve as a testimony to them that contracting the disease is not the end of their lives.”Living with HIV is not as simple as saying the word, but once you know of your status I believe it says a lot about what you have done in the past, and you need to learn from those actions that you practised in the past. I also believe that it gives you time to take some corrective action. If you were not looking at your own health behaviour, it is now time that you do that. If you weren’t practising safer sex, it is now prudent for you to do that,” informs Mr. Reid.He stresses that HIV does not make a person a criminal and people need to learn from what HIV can do.
“HIV is no longer a death sentence and I think it is a call to every individual to look at what you are doing and how you can make changes in your life,” he says.
The campaign is funded through grants from the Global Fund for HIV and AIDS and represents a milestone in the campaign in the fight to combat the spread of HIV. Both participants hope to continue their work with the campaign even after it ends.
At the launch of the campaign in September 2006, Professor Peter Figueroa, Chief, Epidemiology and AIDS in the Ministry of Health, said the campaign represented an important milestone in Jamaica’s response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
“Jamaicans must understand that the growing number of persons living with HIV and AIDS are real people with families, friends, co-workers and neighbours. These persons are like you and me who have their lives to live, and wish to do so free from the stigma of HIV and free from any discrimination that may arise due to their HIV status,” he said.
It is estimated that over 25,000 Jamaicans are currently living with the HIV virus and of this amount 15,000 person are not aware of their HIV status. Persons living with HIV can live healthy lives for many years with proper treatment.

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