Involving People with HIV


Educators are joining with health professionals to respond to the AIDS pandemic in the Caribbean—the leading cause of death among young people ages 15-29. As an extremely influential and important part of society, the education sector has the potential to help safeguard the lives of hundreds of thousands of students, their families, and even teachers and staff. Schools can provide access to services as well as critical knowledge and skills that people of all ages need in order to protect themselves from HIV.

Caribbean has never lost a generation of its most talented young people because of war or natural disasters, but is in danger of doing so because of the AIDS pandemic,” said Arlene Husbands, Caribbean Coordinator in EDC’s Health and Human Development Division. “And we’re faced with the challenge of people not getting treatment due to stigma and discrimination.”

Positive Partnerships

Significant obstacles in reducing the spread of HIV, stigma and discrimination have rippling effects. In schools, when children—or their family members—are stigmatized or have health-related challenges, this can lead to absenteeism and poor performance. And stigma isolates those with HIV.

Stigma and discrimination are such grave cause for concern in the prevention efforts that in 1994, the Paris AIDS Summit formally outlined principles for more active involvement of people living with HIV as a way to counter these problems.

The principles were further endorsed and elaborated upon in 2001 by the United Nations. Their Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS emphasized the importance of including people living with HIV in the design, planning, implementation and evaluation of programs and policies targeting the epidemic.

Known as GIPA—Greater Involvement of People living with HIV and AIDS—these principles are designed to accelerate the international response to the epidemic by improving access to resources and services such as health care and counseling. The principles also promote the rights of people living with HIV and AIDS and their inclusion so that they can become more involved in program development, management, policy making and strategic planning around HIV.

Involving people with HIV improves the relevance and effectiveness of programs, said Husbands. But there’s another benefit as well.

“Research shows that getting to know persons with HIV and AIDS, and giving them the opportunity to share their experiences is a very important approach in dealing with stigma and discrimination,” Husbands explains. By learning from others with the disease, people become more compassionate. As their perceptions change and the wall of stigma and discrimination begins to disintegrate, people are more inclined to take action around prevention, testing, and treatment.

In the Caribbean, the education sector has embraced these principles as an integral part of their comprehensive response to HIV and AIDS.

To help put the principles into practice, EDC in collaboration with the UNESCO Kingston Cluster Office for the Caribbean, developed Positive Partnerships, a toolkit for Caribbean educators and people living with HIV and AIDS. Case studies, role-playing, and other activities are used throughout the toolkit to break down barriers erected by stigma and discrimination, and ultimately prevent HIV.

People with HIV were directly involved in writing the toolkit, pilot-testing it, and conducting workshops affiliated with its development and dissemination.

“I became infected because I took a risk. And I want others to learn from my experience and prevent themselves from getting infected too,” said Ainsley Reid, a Caribbean native and one of the toolkit co-authors.

Involving people with HIV and AIDS acknowledges their fundamental rights and sends a clear message about the importance of HIV prevention. It also helps to replace the isolation they experience with the opportunity to become more meaningfully involved in society, which can further reduce stigma and discrimination.

Educators in the Caribbean know that involving people with HIV is key to protecting lives of the next generation of students.

Positive Partnerships grew out of EDC’s work with the Caribbean Education Sector HIV and AIDS Coordinator Network (EduCan), which brings together HIV and AIDS coordinators from Caribbean education ministries to create a policy-level response to the region’s HIV/AIDS crisis. It is funded by UNESCO.