Group fights stigma against AIDS

Cayman has had 106 cases of AIDS/HIV since 1985

The Cayman AIDS Foundation organised two events last week, illustrating the purpose of the group’s existence: to provide accurate information, fight discrimination and provide support for people who have HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). 

The group applied for and received permission to hold a march from the cricket pitch on Thomas Russell Way down to Heroes Square in front of the Law Courts Building in George Town. There they held a programme to mark World AIDS Day, for the 10th year in Cayman. 

The subject needs attention: Cayman has had 106 HIV/AIDS cases since the first was diagnosed in 1985, Health Minister Mark Scotland told the gathering. There have been 21 new cases since 2008, including three this year, he said. 

“If people feel they will be labelled or ostracised they will not be tested,” he pointed out. He thanked foundation members and 
supporters for their work.  

“Knowledge is the best antidote to fear and discrimination,” he concluded. 

Cherine Usherwood, the foundation’s vice president, provided additional statistics as they relate to Caymanians, residents and spouses of Caymanians. Of the 106 cases referred to by Mr. Scotland, at the moment there are 41 people living with HIV and 27 people living with AIDS. Deaths from AIDS-related illnesses total 38, she reported. 

Stigma and discrimination about these conditions are due to misinformation, Ms Usherwood said. CAF offers a safe, free, confidential and non-judgmental environment for persons infected with HIV, as well as for persons who practise high-risk behaviours. The group offers support for those who are infected, as well as those who are affected, she said. 

Carolina Ferreira of the Cayman Islands Red Cross spoke of the HIV programme that empowers young people by giving them information.  

“We have trained over 350 young people, who have together reached over 3,000 people,” she said.  

A free HIV testing programme started last year and attracted five people; in two days this year, 47 people showed up, she said. 

Cayman Islands Deputy Governor Franz Manderson said the success of any jurisdiction is determined by the quality of its citizens. Cayman is special because of the people who live here, he said, and being there with a dynamic group of people working for a worthy cause was the perfect ending to his day. Mr. Manderson revealed that one thing he wanted to achieve in the next year was getting civil servants involved in organisations with meaningful 
community benefits. 

Track star Cydonie Mothersill pledged to help raise awareness of AIDS-related issues and fight the stigma associated with them. 

The programme included a welcome by Olson Anderson, the song Wind beneath my Wings by Noel Smith, and a lighting of remembrance candles by Linda Bush and Siri Jones-Russell followed by a moment of silence. CAF supporters received certificates of appreciation and president Stephanie Scott gave 
the vote of thanks. 

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