The worst plague “of our lifetime” brought out the best in humanity. This was evident from the dedication of the volunteers of the now defunct National HIV/AIDS Hotline.
So says Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Tennyson Springer.
He was speaking on behalf of Minister of Health John Boyce, at a “thank you” reception at the Barbados Yacht Club, last Saturday, for volunteers who worked with the hotline for the last 22 years. It was decommissioned in September, last year.
Springer said the hotline was in response to “a sense of urgency for information, education, care and support” during the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. He explained that the goals of the hotline were to: initiate public dialogue about HIV; educate on transmission and prevention; reduce risky sexual behaviour; dispel the many myths that were associated with HIV transmission; and reduce the fear that surrounded the disease.
“So, whether there were questions about getting tested; a person receiving an HIV positive diagnosis or someone trying to overcome the hurdle of living with HIV, the calling public needed someone who could see their challenges through different lens; a lens of hope. The Ministry of Health’s National HIV/AIDS Hotline acted as the gateway to providing that hope…
“From 1990 to 2012 has been a remarkable journey throughout which a cadre of 200 volunteers were trained. Since 2001, the Government of Barbados has provided free anti-retroviral medication to all its citizens, and improved access to treatment, care and support is available. Hence many of the gains that we were fighting for in those early painful years have been realized,” the permanent secretary pointed out.
He said these included increased funding for HIV prevention, care and treatment, greater public support and less stigma of those infected.
“At this point in-time, information about HIV and [Sexually Transmitted Infections] is more readily available and many persons now seek answers to their HIV-related questions through the Internet and other sources,” Springer added.
The senior public servent explained that at its peak in 2000, the hotline fielded 1,116 calls for the year. However, this number dropped significantly to just 127 in 2012. He said that it was due to this vast reduction that the hotline was eventually discontinued.
Springer also challenged the volunteers not to let the cessation stop them from volunteering in other areas of the Ministry of Health.
“We thank you for your invaluable contribution as hotline volunteers and look forward to continuing our long standing partnership. Even though the hotline is no longer available, we must continue to aggressively provide health information, health promotion, safe practices and seek to reduce stigma.
“In other words, we must continue on that trail which you have blazed. So, my challenge to you is not to rest on your laurels because of the hotline’s closure, but to continue to strive towards even loftier goals,” he urged.