It’s time to start broadcasting the whole picture of HIV in Barbados. When we have turned on our televisions in the past several years, often the stories we’ve seen and heard about HIV were ones reporting on the success of our society working together in preventing and treating AIDS.
Barbados’ creation of an effective multi-sector HIV program has been, to my mind, our most significant achievement so far. A lot of time and energy has been spent on a widespread campaign of sensitisation and engagement among our partners. This brought the various government areas and civil society together with established non-governmental organisations (NGOs). We linked up with groups working in sexual and reproductive health (such as the Barbados Family Planning Association). We linked up with groups working in the field of HIV (such as United Gays and Lesbians against AIDS in Barbados ). We linked up with the business sector (AIDS Foundation), the faith-based community, and with groups for people living with HIV (such as CARE Barbados).
Barbados has succeeded as far as it has with this multi-sector engagement due to solid political leadership at the highest levels, the ensured sustainability of funding, and advocacy from leaders across all sectors.
And yet, our HIV infection rates continue to climb. To improve on our success against the ever-growing challenge of HIV, we must focus on preventing new infections. And if we are to confront the rising infection rate head on, we must focus on strategies to change collective behavior towards HIV— to reduce the current stigma of being HIV-positive, and to communicate that AIDS is a very real risk to people living in this region, no matter the community to which they belong.
This is a huge challenge that we face. It will take a significant commitment to bring about a significant change in behavior. It is possible. But to make it so, there must be a harmonisation of partners regionally and nationally—the UN has a critical role to play in this aspect. NGOs must be strengthened and empowered with funding to provide the necessary sustainability. And, we must engage the media and faith-based community in the area of stigma and discrimination.
This is where the whole picture of HIV in Barbados comes in. Many of the stories we see about HIV in the news are testaments to our success in fighting the disease thus far. And many more are sensationalist stories that shock and frighten the public. They are the kind of stories that only perpetuate the stigma and discrimination faced by those living with HIV, and often prevent them from seeking treatment, thus putting their communities at even greater risk.
Our media must rise above this cycle of “nice” messages and sensational news. I believe we should instead commit our airwaves and newsprint to targeted messages based on research and evidence. We should be stimulating thought on the underlying issue and not merely eliciting knee jerk reactions.
As the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) deadlines set by the United Nations loom—they must be reached in the next five years— the natural and necessary progression of our media is to broaden its role in the national and regional AIDS response within that time. We know that media is one of the most effective tools we have to educate the people of Barbados and the region. And it is one of the most effective tools we have to allow people to think differently. Let us come together to broadcast a new message about HIV— the full picture— both in the media and in our communities.
Photo Caption: Dr. Carol Jacobs, Chair, Caribbean Broadcast Media Partnership against HIV/AIDS Credit: Steve Shapiro/2011 Caribbean HIV Conference