“Stigma and lack of knowledge about HIV & AIDS” was the topic of a compelling presentation by Pro-Chancellor of the University of Guyana Prem Misir, who launched his first health book in front of expatriates at the Consulate General of Guyana in New York City, recently.
The former associate public health epidemiologist of the Bureau of HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control of NY City was motivated to write “HIV&AIDS Knowledge and Stigma in Guyana” after conducting interviews with N.Y. residents where discrimination and stigma among all races were evident.
Misir, a professor in Public Health at the University of Central Lancaster in England, said his interest in how the disease is transmitted and how stigma impacts awareness, peaked his interest and led him to publish this fundamental tool that will be used by health professionals, educators and policymakers throughout the Caribbean region.
An author of eight books, Misir who has written extensively in peer review journals, and was instrumental in gaining a grant from the CDC to study the pandemic, did a cross-sectional look at 379 high school students in urban Guyana and assessed their knowledge of the disease, and stigma related attitudes.
“What is evident is that 40 percent of the world’s incident rate is among adolescent,” said Misir, a former visiting professor of the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine,
His findings show that people graduate from HIV to AIDS status in their twenties and noted that Guyana was not isolated in this regard since studies around the world also show that the incubation period is eight to 10 years.
“This is the reason why it is very critical for the youth in Guyana to be educated about the disease during their high school years — a period when they are sexually active,” said Misir.
The recently elected Fellow of the Royal Society for Public Health in England, named NGOs such as the National AIDS Program Secretariat, and the Global Fund that are working to stem the spread of the disease through education and services.
However, Misir, a consultant with PAHO/WHO, pointed to stigma as a contributing factor and said this book aims to give agencies intervention knowledge to reduce the high rate of sexual behaviors among teens.
Because of the stigma aspect also, said Misir, a collaborative researcher with the University of Bern, Switzerland, and author of Journal of the International Association of Providers of AIDA Care and Health and Human Rights, an international journal, the Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT) program is challenged because patients fear discrimination.
Artists In Direct Support (AIDS) a theater production directed by advocate Desiree Edghill has been effective in motivating citizens to express themselves to combat the pandemic through plays, but more has to be done to reduce the numbers said Misir, UNDP consultant to the National Tripartite Committee on HIV/AIDS who credits the free distribution of antiretroviral medications as a cause for the decrease in deaths.
“People could live a normal life and no one has to know they are affected with the disease if they take the drugs,” added Misir who said despite the belief by some that there is a cure for AIDS, there is none.