Statistics show that 53 percent of the new HIV infections for 2009 in the Caribbean occurred among women and girls. For some women, there is an additional heartache, knowing they are pregnant with the virus and there is a chance that their child could become infected with HIV. As Trinidad and Tobago’s Newsday reports, the Walker-Lela Foundation on Monday premiered a short film, Positive and Pregnant, intended on creating awareness of the virus and more importantly, the options available for pregnant HIV positive women to prevent mother to child transmissions, which is one of the leading means by which children are infected. The film was launched ahead of observances for World AIDS Day, which is being commemorated today across the globe. This is their report.
Founder and Executive Director of the Walker-Lela Foundation, Candice Lela-Rolingson, explained at the launch, held at the National Academy for Performing Arts, Port-of-Spain, that the docu-drama will be used as an educational tool in tertiary level institutions and community programmes so that it will create awareness on a national level. The foundation was assisted with funding from the United States Embassy and the People and Social Development Ministry, which hosted the launch.
She noted the foundation’s primary focus is on women and children. “There is a strong link between many of the ills that plague women and children in our society including poverty, domestic violence, drug abuse, incest, teenage pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases like HIV and AIDS.
“If we are to make any serious impact on these ills, there must be a more holistic approach to addressing them. The documentary, Positive and Pregnant, is our first major effort towards this cause,” Lela-Rolingson said.
Research for the film was conducted over a three-year period, she said, and was intended to ensure information presented was factual and accurate. In addition to working with professional stakeholders, the foundation also interviewed persons who are HIV positive to gain insights into issues affecting their lives. Lela-Rolingson said the foundation already received feedback which they plan to use in future productions.
In the film, the main character chroniclles her relationship with a man who she fell in love with. Although she was always cautious when it came to her sexual experiences, she threw caution to the wind because of the love and passion she felt for him. Things changed when they discovered she was pregnant and she urged that they both go for HIV tests which turned out positive. She seeks advice from her best friend who urged her to seek treatment which is provided by government free of charge.
The 23-year-old also faces rejection and insults from her mother who she eventually confesses to. The viewer is taken through this journey as she relates her worries to a counselling officer who then advises her of the antiretroviral treatment available which considerably lessens the chances of the virus passing on to her unborn child. Her baby is able to come into the world HIV free because of this advice and treatment. The film ends with a message from an actual HIV positive mother who explained how the antiretroviral treatment helped her have a HIV free child and live a better, longer life.
People and Social Development Minister, Glenn Ramadharsingh, in his address, said women face HIV stigma and discrimination more frequently than men which may lead to women not taking advantage of available routine reproductive health services and information as well as HIV services, putting themselves and their babies at greater risk of HIV infection.
“In the real world, women face a plethora of HIV related risk factors that a significant number of men do not. Gender inequality and poverty trap millions of women in economic dependence on male partners that can expose them to violence and sexual aggression. These factors compromise women’s ability to shield themselves from HIV.” he said. The theme of World AIDS Day, “Universal Access and Human Rights”, provides the opportunity to look at these challenges from stigma and discrimination facing persons living with and affected by HIV.
He said while the UNAIDS report show that the HIV/AIDS pandemic has slowed with the rate of new infections slowing by 20 percent in the last ten years, more than 2.6 million people in the world became infected with HIV in 2009 and 370,000 children were born to HIV positive mothers globally.
In the Caribbean, coverage of paediatric AIDS treatment has reached 55 percent which resulted in a marked reduction of AIDS related mortality. The prevention of mother to child transmission coverage of treatment is now 52 percent which has reduced the number of new infections among children by 18 percent.
Ramadharsingh said however, the report shows that adult HIV prevalence in the Caribbean is about one percent higher than any other region outside sub-Saharan Africa. “While these statistics are mainly estimates and therefore are subject to a margin of error, they are good enough to reveal that along with our Caribbean neighbours we are lagging behind in terms of progress made in combating the spread of HIV. Consequently, we must redouble our efforts to stem the spread of this disease,” he said.
He said however while Government is doing its part, it must work with non-governmental organisations like the Lela-Walker Foundation if they are to succeed in national efforts to combat the disease.
“While I do not wish to minimise the importance of interventions that address the needs of men and boys, the evidence suggests that our efforts to reduce the spread of the disease must be women and girl-centred. The film’s focus on preventing mother to child transmission appears therefore to be right on target in this regard,” he said.
In a subsequent press release from the foundation, the Directors of The Walker Lela Foundation wished to express its gratitude to the Ministry of The People and Social Development for the hosting of the Premiere of Positive and Pregnant, held on Monday at National Academy for Performing Arts (NAPA).
“We hope to gain the support of the Ministry of the People and Social development with our outreach program to tertiary and skill learning intuitions. The Trinidad and Tobago Film Company has also joined us (The Walker Lela Foundation for Women’s Empowerment) to carry Positive and Pregnant to the communities, along with a panel of Health care professionals form The Walker Lela Founnadtion and other volunteers, including Necia Holtzman and the Producer of Positive and Pregnant Candice Lela-Rolingson.
“The Ministry of Health can no longer endorse Positive and Pregnant with their logo (as mentioned in Sunday Newsday’s Good Living Section), because The Ministry of Health is not able to endorse an independently created film , however we continue to maintain a cordial relationship and hope to gain the support of the Ministry of Health on future projects. The incite for the male perspective of Positive and Pregnant is on the drawing board and we will continue to work together to help win the battle against stigma and discrimination and encourage our population to be tested for HIV,” the release said.
For more information on Positive and Pregnant Find visit http://positiveandpregnant.weebly.com and http://www.walkerlelafoundation.weebly.com
Newsday’s report appeared originally at http://www.newsday.co.tt/features/0,131760.html