Ride the BUS in Grenada and learn about HIV/AIDS

Published: 21 December 2005 0:00 CET

Raymond Syms, Trinidad

If you happen to visit the Caribbean island of Grenada and a young person in a Red Cross T-shirt suggests you ‘ride the bus’, don’t take them literally. Unless, of course, you’re at a bus stop.

In fact, ‘Ride the BUS’ is the title of an innovative campaign organised by the Grenada Red Cross to educate the public, especially the island’s young people, about HIV/AIDS. ‘Bus’ in this case stands for ‘Building Understanding for Safety’.

Addressing the prevalence of HIV/AIDS remains a priority in the Caribbean, which has been ranked by UNAIDS as the second most affected region after Africa. According to recent statistics* , the AIDS epidemic claimed an estimated 24,000 (16,000-40,000) lives in the region in 2005, making it the leading cause of death among adults aged between 15 and 44 years.

A total of 300,000 (200,000-510,000) people are living with HIV in the Caribbean region, including the 30,000 (17 000-71,000) people who became infected in 2005. Estimated national adult HIV prevalence surpasses 1% in Barbados, Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Suriname, 2% in the Bahamas, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, and 3% in Haiti.

Supported by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, the initial ‘Ride the BUS’ campaign ran from June to September 2005 and involved youth peer educators from the regional HIV/AIDS peer education programme, Together We Can.

Every Friday, these young people visited busy bus terminals in four of the island’s regions to distribute bumper stickers, T-shirts, flyers and exercise books, all carrying a HIV/AIDS message. They also set up an information booth nearby where people could find out more about HIV/AIDS and the Red Cross. There was an element of fun as visitors to the booth could pick a question from a bowl and win a T-shirt or token if they answered it correctly.

“The campaign was definitely a success and sensitised a lot of people, young and old, about HIV/AIDS,” explained Cindy Lewis, a Red Cross volunteer and a national trainer for Together We Can.

“Many of the older people were delighted to see young people involved in reaching out to the public about the virus. In August, one young man came to the booth and congratulated them for their efforts to raise awareness. He was quite emotional because his brother had recently died of AIDS.”

On the final weekend in early September, the peer educators organised a reunion at the Westerhall Secondary School. Fifty peer educators attended and later went house-to-house in the district sharing HIV/AIDS information and distributing items.

The campaign climaxed with a ‘Positive Vibes’ concert at a popular mall, with Red Cross Youth, community and church groups performing.

“We are currently trying to raise funds to continue the campaign,” said Cindy. “I really hope we are successful and that more people in Granada are able to ‘Ride the Bus’.”

*UNAIDS/World Health Organisation