World AIDS Day takes place each year on December 1st. On this day, communities around the world come together to show support for people living with HIV/AIDS, to unite in the fight against HIV, and to remember those whose lives have been lost to the disease. This year, Health Equity International and St. Boniface Hospital celebrated the day with a community education event that focused on increasing understanding of HIV/AIDS and reducing prejudice against those living with the virus or disease.
More than 60 people of all ages from the Fond des Blancs community gathered with SBH staff for the event. Pharmacist Jaccis Woodney, family medicine doctor Jonathan Leosthene, community health nurse Claudine Bernard, and social worker Junior Oscar led discussions about HIV treatment and what it's like to live with the HIV/AIDS. The team also provided science-based information about how HIV can be acquired, and ways to prevent transmission. This information was crucial to a discussion about reducing the stigma against HIV/AIDS, which remains a critical problem in Haiti and around the world. Unfortunately, the stigma against HIV/AIDS can be so great that people are too afraid to seek care, afraid that their status might become known and they and their family will become ostracised.
SBH has one of the most prominent and longest-running HIV/AIDS treatment programs in Haiti. For over 15 years, SBH has been providing long-term, comprehensive care to people living with HIV/AIDS. From providing free antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) to psychosocial support, our program has changed HIV from a death sentence into a chronic, manitable illness for many people in Haiti. In fact, 100% of our HIV-positive patients recieve ARVs, and 78% have achieved viral suppression—meaning that the person's viral load of HIV RNA is undetectable.
At the end of the event, participants gathered into groups to discuss how they will share the information they learned with other members of the community. This willingness to stand up for people living with HIV/AIDS and share fact-based information with others is a small but crucial step in helping to create safer and more tolerant communities for people living with this illness.
For more information about SBH's HIV/AIDS program, click here.