Harmful social issues such as stigma and discrimination are crippling the progress made in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Minister of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs, Kirk Humphrey says that despite medical advancements, the “history” of the chronic illness, infamously linked to homosexual black men, continues to perpetuate in Barbadian society.
Humphrey was speaking at the Seventh HIV Research Symposium held at Radisson Hotel on World AIDS Day – December 1 – , when he highlighted that efforts were ongoing to eliminate stigma in Barbados.
“With all of these medications and the fact you can intensify a person’s capacity to be happy even as they experience HIV and AIDS, or support the families with the new structures that we have. The difference is that HIV is as a sexual transmitted disease continues to carry a stigma and that stigma is perhaps the bigger burden that the disease itself, and that is related to the history of the disease,” Humphrey remarked.
He stressed that anyone could be affected by the chronic illness, and continued discrimination and stigma, would further impede future progress in testing, research and data collection.
“The reality is it is for everybody. . . . The history is affecting the trajectory, so men and women who refuse to have conversations about HIV/AIDS carry their minds back to a time when we were ignorant about the disease and allow that ignorance to determine today’s action which in itself is ignorant and, therefore, we have to fight stigma in all of its manifestations.”
“The one thing that is sad, I think we continue to regrettably be a society that judges people. that judgement is reserved for the lord and in our judgement we deny people from all that Barbados has to offer,” Humphrey said.
“We speak of growth, we speak of development [but] that development is a distorted development so that not everybody benefits from that development. We speak of growth but that growth is not inclusive growth because not everybody is allowed to be able to participate. It cripples the country, it cripples the capacity of the people who are involved in this fight to be able to lead and it cripples the life of the persons that we are trying to service and Barbados has to do a lot better than that,” he continued.
The Minister of People Empowerment also called for more data collection on HIV/AIDS in Barbados and recommended collaborating with the University of West Indies Cave Hill Campus.
“We need to have new data, relevant data. We need to have access to the university. The university [of West Indies] needs to get itself involved in the development of new knowledge, practical things that relate to this country. That is the kind of society that I hope we are able to have,” he asserted.