November 9, 2004

Buckle Lectures on AIDS

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“HIV/AIDS is probably one of the greatest humanitarian crises of our time,” said Edward Pettitt ’05, director of Help Understand and Guide Me (HUG Me), introducing the lecture, “HIV/AIDS in Ghana: Heartbreak and Hope,” given by Dr. Gilbert Buckle, Director of the National Catholic Health Service of Ghana. A variety of campus, community and national organizations worked together to bring Buckle to the International Lounge in the Straight last night for the lecture. Some of the sponsors of the event included Catholic Relief Services, Gannett, UNICEF, Catholic Charities of Tompkins County and Cornell HIV/AIDS Education Project.

“It was a good step that the Catholic community and organizations like Planned Parenthood came together to co-sponsor this program,” Pettitt said. Catholic Relief Services has been responsible for sending Buckle from his native country of Ghana to the United States to speak.

“We are doing this to get good grassroots support and to inform people as to what is happening in Africa,” said Chris West, community organizer, Catholic Relief Services.

“We are all here because of the same thing, because AIDS is central to all of us in one way or another,” Buckle said. He said that in Ghana, a country about twice the size of Pennsylvania, 3.6 percent of the total population of 20 million are infected with AIDS. This translates into 500,000-600,000 people infected with HIV/AIDS, 40,000 people in need of medication, and 170,000-200,000 vulnerable children whose parents are either dead or very ill because of AIDS. According to Buckle, the average annual income in Ghana is $390, while it is $37,000 in the U.S. He then asked the audience: “What would you do if you earned $30/month and needed to pay $500/month for AIDS medication and had to support your family?”. The answer from a member of the audience was: “pray”.

According to Buckle, now that there are newer versions of AIDS medications, the older but still usable medications are in stockpiles in the U.S. There are ongoing debates over whether these medications should be given to Africa.

“Everybody is an expert on Africa except the Africans. No one is asking Africa what should be done; people are telling Africa what to do,” Buckle said. He gave the example that someone could go to Ghana for two weeks, visit three hospitals and then proclaim that he or she is an expert on Africa.

He added that there are misunderstandings about culture and that certain things have different meanings in different contexts. One example is sex education.

“You can’t program directly to children, you have to talk to the chief and elders of the society and support the families,” Buckle said. He added that it is not part of the culture to address topics of sex education out of context and that it has to be timed right, because families aren’t prepared for their children to be told directly in school.

Another example Buckle provided about different beliefs was determining a sickness to be due to physical causes or to fate. He said that people in his country will believe a disease is physical if there is a cure. If it can’t be treated at a hospital, traditional beliefs hold that the disease is due to fate. People think that they are being lied to if they are told that HIV/AIDS can be cured but are unable to get proper treatment at a hospital.

“I was really interested in his point of not prescribing from our point of view but instead seeing what the people in Africa want to do,” said Sara Alcorn ’05. Edie Reagan, Justice and Peace Ministry coordinator for Catholic Charities of Tompkins County, said, “it was most stunning that we are capable of helping address this problem and absurd that there are medicines being stockpiled here and not being used.”

HUG Me, a student outreach component of the Cornell HIV/AIDS Education Project, was the major group responsible for organizing the logistics of the lecture. Pettitt, the director of the organization said that he hopes to help plan more community lectures. The group works with youth workers, students and parents in the area and attempts to bridge the generational gap by being able to talk to kids about HIV/AIDS.

According to Jennifer Tiffany, director of HIV/AIDS Education Project, New York state has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS diagnosis in the U.S. and people are still facing issues of silence and stigmas.

Archived article by Vanessa Hoffman
Sun Staff Writer