KINGSTON — The fight against HIV/AIDS in Jamaica and the stigma associated with the virus, has received a boost of US$58,000 from the United States Ambassador to Jamaica, Her Excellency Pamela Bridgewater.
The signing for the funding, which falls under the Presidents’ Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), took place at the United States Embassy in Kingston, Tuesday (May 10). The five beneficiary organisations were represented.
Ambassador Bridgewater explained that the programme is the largest contribution by any nation, for any disease, internationally.
“We are very proud of this accomplishment. PEPFAR has been saving lives, through intervention, through testing, through providing anti-retroviral drugs to persons living with HIV and AIDS…we have been able to prevent mother to child transmission in many cases,” she stated.
Ambassador Bridgewater noted that the groups receiving the grants would focus on the challenging area of stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, pointing out that, “we know that people living with HIV and AIDS are stigmatised, because they (others) don’t have the nature of it, and what it does or does not do."
She said the grants were being provided at an important time, on the heels of the recent signing of an action plan against stigma by the Prime Minister of Jamaica and the Leader of the Opposition.
“This is a wonderful breakthrough, and we commend the leaders for taking this very bold move. Once again, Jamaica takes an important lead,” she remarked.
The beneficiaries include the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA), a statutory body mandated to reduce the use of illegal drugs and promote healthy lifestyles. The NCDA also lobbies for an integrated approach to the prevention of HIV/AIDS and substance abuse.
Executive Director of the NCDA, Michael Tucker, explained that the agency’s 12-month project, would involve resistance education against drug abuse and HIV/AIDS to adolescents in Jamaica’s second-chance institutions’. He noted that second-chance institutions are those that are privately or government owned, enabling persons who were not successful in the regular school system, to secure foundation education or trades.
“They are the population that is deemed most vulnerable to drug abuse and HIV/AIDS, because of low education attainment…we hope through the assistance that we are going to receive to help these youngsters to be more aware, to give them the adequate education, the coping skills and guide them in the right direction,” Mr. Tucker explained. The project will receive US$18,000, with activities scheduled to begin in June.
Another beneficiary organisation, Hibiscus Jamaica, which has been granted US$5000, represents and serves mainly former drug couriers and deportees from poor rural and inner-city communities. Their project, which will run from June to December, involves workshops on stigma and discrimination, as well as prevention in urban inner city communities, and rural areas across the island.
Executive Director of Hibiscus Jamaica, St. Rachel Ustanny, informed that “we are looking to deliver 24 sessions, one educational workshop per week, over six months, and each session will involve about 30 persons…it will target communities across Kingston and St. Andrew, St. Catherine…we will be seeking to share personal stories, establish support groups or infected and affected persons across the Kingston Metropolitan Region, as well as provide voluntary counseling and testing services to individuals.”
Meanwhile, Grata Foundation will receive US$10,000 for its public education campaign on Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) buses in the Kingston Metropolitan Region.
Representative, Jermaine Spencer said, “buses are a very good tool for public education, they are as big as billboards, and they reach the population."
He said the emphasis would be on communicating behaviour change messages to men, and empowering women and educating women about safer sex. The campaign will include up to four buses.
“One of the beauties with advertising with the buses is that, once the Ads are up, they will last for a year, and it is a very low cost way of advertising…we will be having a focus group discussion to ensure that the message is in keeping with public policy,”
Mr. Spencer said. A part of the funding will be used for a radio public education campaign.
Grata Foundation is a youth-led and youth operated non profit organisation, which deals with research in the behavioural, medical, social and technological sciences, delivering workable solutions to development challenges in public health, education, universal access to technology and micro and small business development.
Northern Caribbean University (NCU) has been allotted US$15,000 to carry out its project, which will involve training paraprofessionals to work with rural faith and community-based leaders, offering services to persons infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.
Associate Professor of Counselling at the NCU, Dr. Orlean Brown Earl, informed that the project begins on May 29, when 62 graduate students will be trained, and interned from June to August, visiting communities in rural southern and western Jamaica.
“We hope to guide people on how to show care, practice prevention and how to access treatment services. This will help to lessen the stigma associated with persons who have HIV/AIDS,” Dr. Brown Earl said.
The US$10,000 grant for Ronmar’s International Ministries, will be used to train over 2,000 youths and church members in stigma reduction across the parishes of Hanover, Westmoreland and St. Elizabeth.
In his remarks, founder of the organisation, Reverend Ronald Webster, said persons within the church community tend to ostracize persons who are HIV positive, but that “we (Ronmar’s International Ministries) believe that the church communities in these parishes need to provide opportunities for persons with HIV, so the programme is targeting two groups of individuals within the church – the leaders, and the youths.” This project is slated for four months, beginning June.
By ALPHEA SAUNDERS, JIS Reporter