By Mark Ramotar
US Ambassador, Mr. Roland Bullen, yesterday indicated that Guyana is "a small country with a big problem" as he alluded to Guyana having the second highest number of reported HIV/AIDS cases in the Caribbean, next to Haiti.
He also pointed to the fact that HIV has spread beyond "at-risk" populations into the "general" population.
US Ambassador Mr. Roland Bullen and Patron of Lifeline Counseling Services, Mrs. Kayleigh Burgess holding-up a 'Lifeline Quilt' which Mrs. Burgess unveiled yesterday during the counsel's 7th anniversary celebration and the launching of the Philip Vanderhyden walk-a-thon which is to be held on October 26. Cheering them on is Executive Director of Lifeline, Mr. Jimmy Bhojedat.
"Today's young people are the AIDS generation (since) they have never known a world without HIV," the US Ambassador asserted yesterday morning while making brief remarks at Lifeline Counselling Services 7th anniversary celebrations. Lifeline also used the occasion to launch the Phillip Vanderhyden walk-a-thon, which is to be held on October 26.
"Millions have already died, yet the HIV/AIDS epidemic among youth remains largely invisible to many adults and to young people themselves," Ambassador Bullen said.
He said, too, that many adolescents are at risk because no one - including parents, educators, counselors, health care workers, or the media - has taught them about HIV/AIDS or about how to protect themselves and others.
"Despite over 20 years of international recognition of the need for education and communication to prevent HIV/AIDS, young people today still have only limited opportunities to learn about the virus and the disease.
According to Bullen, research has demonstrated time and time again that in general, programmes for youths work better when young people help plan and run them.
Involvement, he said, gives young people a sense of ownership of the programme and helps develop skills such as management, organization, and decision making. It also helps assure that services and messages meet young people's needs.
The US Ambassador, however, feels that "things are changing in Guyana". "Young Guyanese are mobilizing and leading the response and working to turn the tide of the epidemic. In part, with the US Government support, young people now have the opportunity to plan and run their own programmes and they are provided with the tools and the resources to do it."
He noted that Lifeline is one of the groups the US Government has been supporting to strengthen their capacity to respond for the past three years.
"Anywhere you go in Guyana, if someone thinks of a referral for counseling, Lifeline is one of the first agencies that will come to mind. This is a tribute to all the hard work of so many over the past seven years," Bullen stated.
"Guyana is a small country with a big problem, but don't get me wrong, I am very optimistic that we are on the right track with the energy, creativity and commitment that has been demonstrated by Lifeline and other groups in Guyana, this combined with the commitment of the Government of Guyana and the support from the international community will ensure that we succeed in our efforts," Ambassador Bullen posited.
According to Executive Director of Lifeline Counselling Services, Mr. Jimmy Bhojedat, Lifeline is a non-governmental organization whose mission is to reduce the psychosocial impact of HIV and AIDS on persons living with or affected by the disease through counselling and education. The organisation celebrated its 7th anniversary yesterday.
Bhojedat said Lifeline was established in October 1996 primarily to provide counselling for persons affected by HIV and AIDS. He said over the past seven years, Lifeline has expanded its reach and is now battling the epidemic with a variety of social services which includes Free and Confidential Counselling, Education Outreach, Training, Care and Support, Condom Distribution, Facilitation of HIV testing and research.
He said, too, that the walk-a-thon celebrates the life of Philip Vanderhyden, a founding member of Lifeline who is often referred to as the first face for HIV and AIDS in Guyana because of his courage to work towards restoring dignity to persons living with HIV and AIDS. The walk-a-thon will take place on Sunday, 26, October, 2003 starting at the Bank of Guyana Building at 6:00 hrs. The walk-a-thon is also a fundraiser for Lifeline's Care and Support Programme, which aids those who are living with or who are affected by HIV.