Stigma and Discrimination Illuminated at SASOD's 5th Annual AIDS Candlelight Memorial

Georgetown – On Sunday, May 25, 2014, a small crowd braved the inclement weather to gather at the St. George’s Cathedral to participate in the 5th International AIDS Candlelight Memorial organized by the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD).

The event was much more than just a memorial. It served as a community mobilization campaign to raise social consciousness about HIV. It was used as a platform to show solidarity and support for persons infected and affected by the disease; to encourage people to continue to act together and to call on the public to end stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV, and key affected populations.

Ms. Desiree Edghill, Vice-Chair of Guyana’s Country Coordinating Mechanism of the Global Fund to fight HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund) and Executive Director of Artistes In Direct Support (AIDS) delivering the feature address.

Delivering the feature remarks at the AIDS Candlelight Memorial was Ms. Desiree Edghill, Vice-Chair of Guyana’s Country Coordinating Mechanism of the Global Fund to fight HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund) and Executive Director of Artistes In Direct Support (AIDS), who spoke on the theme, “Let’s Keep the Light on HIV.” She noted the importance of sustaining the response, now that international funding is dwindling. Both the multi-donor Global Fund and the US-funded President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) have reduced HIV funding to Guyana. She also called for an end to stigma and discrimination which impedes key affected population from seeking health and social services. “I do not know that the people who need treatment for HIV are accessing the free medication. And its not because they can’t, but because they feel that they will be stigmatized and suffer discrimination” she said. Edghill  cited the Justice For All programme by the Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV and AIDS (PANCAP) which is aimed at ensuring the respect of justice and human rights for all Caribbean populations and encouraged Guyana to take full advantage of the programme.

The event’s programme also included singing, dancing and poetry.

Attendees lighting candles at SASOD's 5th Annual AIDS Candlelight Memorial.

SASOD continues to raise awareness and call on all stakeholders to ensure equal access to age-appropriate treatment, prevention and care services for all Guyanese regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV status, occupation, socio-economic status or class. Stigma and discrimination - especially homophobia and transphobia – are barriers to accessing services for the communities we serve. There is an urgent need to end stigma, discrimination and human rights violations, affecting people living with HIV and key populations such as sexual and gender minorities, sex workers, drug users and young people.

Present at the AIDS Candlelight Memorial was a mobile HIV, syphilis and blood count testing unit that was arranged by the Ministry of Health. Additionally, the health officials were also conducting the national Behavioural and Biological Surveillance Study (BBSS) to determine HIV prevalence in the country and the levels of knowledge, attitudes, practices and behaviours related to HIV and other communicable diseases.

To view photos from this event, please click here.