The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the National HIV/AIDS Commission to change its programming strategies.
Acting Director of the Commission, Lynn Armstrong told Barbados TODAY that as a result of social distancing and other COVID-19 protocols, along with the postponement of several events over the past two years, the agency has had to adjust how it interacts with the community.
Because of the cancellation of Crop Over since COVID-19 surfaced here in March 2020, the Commission has been unable to execute its major outreach programme on Kadooment Day. The annual Man Aware event to educate men about HIV/AIDS and distribute condoms also had to be called off.
However, Armstrong said, to maintain its relevance and execute its mandate, the HIV/AIDS Commission has been trying to reach the masses through special radio shows.
“We continue to press on because HIV is very much still out there. And the reality is that we cannot let it slide. The pandemic has made work, I wouldn’t say harder but different and it has been forcing us to be creative in terms of getting through to our public,” she said as World AIDS Day was observed on Wednesday.
Armstrong added that while the Commission was unable to distribute t-shirts to members of the public as it usually would on World AIDS Day, because of reasons associated with the pandemic, t-shirts were given to car washers in Massy Car Park, Warrens since “they have been wearing these shirts on World AIDS Day every year”.
“Those set of persons have never let us down, so they are the only six persons who have shirts and are wearing the shirts that have our HIV message,” she said. “We will have shirts for our Love Safely Week, which is our indigenous celebration and recognition that encourages people on Valentine’s Day and leading up to Valentine’s to love safely and be careful.”
Armstrong said the usual full-page newspaper advertisement was also published on Wednesday, in collaboration with the UNAIDS team.
“And today we also wanted to launch a radio drama, but because we had some challenges that radio drama will be launched in January and that will come every week until the Love Safely Week,” she said.
The Commission on Wednesday also received its annual monetary donation from Chefette Restaurants Limited. Armstrong said it would go towards projects for the youth.
“We have an initiative with an agency that I wouldn’t call its name right now, but we are about to donate two tables and two benches for the students at that institution. But, unfortunately, once again, COVID impacted us and they are running behind on the production and that was supposed to be an initiative for today, where we were supposed to have a presentation, but we had to reschedule our timing,” she explained.
This year, World AIDS Day was marked under the theme End Inequalities. End AIDS. End Pandemics, highlighting the urgent need to end the inequalities that drive AIDS and other pandemics.
According to the UNAIDS website, without bold action against inequalities, the world risks missing the targets to end AIDS by 2030, as well as a prolonged COVID-19 pandemic and a spiralling social and economic crisis.
“Forty years since the first AIDS cases were reported, HIV still threatens the world. Today, the world is off track from delivering on the shared commitment to end AIDS by 2030, not because of a lack of knowledge or tools to beat AIDS, but because of structural inequalities that obstruct proven solutions to HIV prevention and treatment.
“Economic, social, cultural and legal inequalities must be ended as a matter of urgency if we are to end AIDS by 2030. Although there is a perception that a time of crisis is not the right time to prioritize tackling the underlying social injustices, it is clear that without doing so the crises cannot be overcome,” it stated.