In the press
Summary - Controlar el VIH/SIDA en Trinidad y Tobago
Bonn, Germany: United Nations Volunteer (UNV) doctor David Musa of Kenya and 15 other UNVs coming from Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Egypt, Iran, Mongolia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan and Venezuela made the most of International Volunteer Day (IVD) on 5 December, 2004, in Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago. The group gathered at St. Dominic’s Children’s Home to share their insights on HIV/AIDS with children aged eight to 15 who, although aware of AIDS, knew little of how the virus is transmitted and prevented. For Dr. Musa, the event demonstrated that many people, young and old alike, believe the virus cannot affect them. Yet, as a specialist in AIDS and other infectious diseases, he knows all too well the reality of the epidemic.
Trinidad and Tobago’s population, which is already decreasing from emigration to countries with stronger economies, is at risk of being further devastated if HIV/AIDS is left unaddressed. At the end of 2003, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) estimated the number of children and adults living with HIV/AIDS in the region to be 29,000. These figures only take into account detected cases of illness or death and are far from reflecting the reality of the epidemic in this archipelago of the two southernmost islands of the Caribbean, the area of the world most affected by HIV/AIDS after Africa.
Dr. Musa arrived in the country in 2003 and since that time has worked at a provincial community health clinic in St. George West. Here, as part of his daily routine, he consults, on average, some 20 to 40 patients a day, makes bedside visits, administers medicine and other treatments, performs HIV testing, notifies new cases, and provides preventative information and counselling. Each week he encounters at least five new cases of HIV infection, mainly pregnant women and drug addicts.
HIV/AIDS is a priority for the government and it has established a special budget to finance the costs of fighting the epidemic. The brain drain of doctors fleeing the country for better paying jobs abroad has left a significant void. The UNV programme recruited 80 UNV doctors in September 2003 to help form new teams of doctors and nurses.
Dr. Musa also works directly with the Ministry of Health to enhance its capacity to respond to the epidemic. With support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) country office and other medical practitioners, he developed a strategy outlining concrete steps to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS. One recommendation is to institute a national HIV Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) programme, which would provide free and immediate access to VCT. Dr. Musa says more people could be reached if walk-in VCT clinics were available across the country.
He is also urging the ministry to intensify its awareness programmes on HIV/AIDS and establish networks to connect NGOs active in HIV/AIDS prevention and for people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. He says many of his patients with HIV/AIDS are deeply stigmatized because they lack support from their families and communities. If the proposal goes ahead, Dr. Musa foresees the situation for those infected to improve dramatically.
Contribution by : Claudia Pivaral, UN Volunteers programme, Section of the Arab States, Latin America and the Caribbean (ARLAC).
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