Rajesh Chintaman gets Elton Jones Award

POSTED: 05/22/12 11:24 AM

GREAT BAY- The 2012 recipient of the Elton Jones Memorial Award for HIV/Aids awareness, newsman Rajesh Chintaman says that even while efforts continue to be made towards reducing stigma and discrimination, the eradication of the disease demands a “multi-sectoral approach” with some of the focus being placed on optimal health insurance for persons living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHAs). “If you are unable to access insurance you are unable to accomplish certain goals such as acquiring a home through a mortgage or life insurance. I am sure that it is being discussed and thought of at a national level but significant attention needs to be placed in this area.” Chintaman said that this form of discrimination appears to be deeply embedded in many corporate organizations throughout the Caribbean region and it was now time for it to be exposed and addressed. There are an estimated 1,500 people living with the disease here and though they lead fulfilling lives because of the treatment currently available, there are still those whose dreams and expectations were crushed because they could not pass a general physical, Chintaman opined.
The practice of denying coverage has gone on for more than two decades, with little change. And yet the implications of HIV infection for health status and life expectancy have changed dramatically over the same period. Chintaman is quick to point out that insurance issues are not his only cause for concern, but this situation has not escaped his attention.
Information coming out of the 17th International Aids Conference in Mexico City in 2008 indicate that life insurance for HIV-positive people in Holland has been available since 2005, with them being able to purchase life insurance with affordable premiums. “When assessing a given applicant’s risk, Dutch insurers consider the following key factors: the applicant’s number of CD4 cells 24 weeks after the start of therapy; the latest data on the applicant’s CD4 cells and viral load; whether the applicant is in therapy; whether such therapy began before or after 1 January 1998; and information on the applicant’s compliance with therapy, side-effects, virus resistance, complications and other illnesses, among other health-risk factors. Furthermore, applicants who consume intravenous drugs are ruled out” conference papers state. However unlike smokers and successfully cured cancer patients, people living with HIV/Aids cannot obtain a life insurance policy on either side of the island.

His comments came just a few hours after accepting his award from St.Maarten Aids Foundation president Dr. Gerard van Osch while at the I Meditate SXM and candlelight memorial event on Sunday night. “It was more of a surprise because I was so busy in the organizing of the event that I did not expect it. I became emotional especially when I learnt that I was unanimously selected by the members of HOPE (Helping Ourselves in a Positive Environment),” a still dazed Chintaman said.
For the past nine years he has been volunteering at the St.Maarten Aids Foundation, working his way up the ranks to his current portfolio of prevention unit head. “I was inspired to join the fight after an interview I had with Dr. van Osch where he was explaining how HIV was making a major impact on the youths of St.Maarten. That was one of the reasons I decided to do as much as I could to help, youth related issues was something I felt needed some more attention.”
In handing over the award, Dr. van Osch spoke highly of Chintaman, describing him as “a man with great analytical insight into the issues at hand and inventing the most creative solutions to assumed obstacles. Quite frankly if I would not have had him as a close friend and counterpart in this work, I’m sure I would not have survived myself as long in this field. We feed on each other’s ideas and brainstorm on almost a daily basis.”
Chintaman expressed profound gratitude for the award, adding that with close to a decade of service to the community of St.Maarten, he has never second guessed his involvement in the Aids foundation. He credited a support system of very close family and friends for his success. “My inner circle encourages me daily to continue making life better for others,” he explained. He also dedicated the award to volunteers nationwide who make selfless sacrifice for others.
Chintaman is quick to point out that before leaving his native Guyana, no campaign has impressed him as much as the Stronger Together Red Ribbon Campaign by Scotia Bank. “This campaign has been running for the past seven years and I have been very happy with the level of support that we have been getting. When you approach people and talk with them the access you are granted from the general public; this in itself is heartening. This support also translates to monetary support to help us fulfill our plans as a foundation.”
The Elton Jones Memorial Award has been presented since 2001 to persons who have shown commitment and exemplary service in the field of HIV/AIDS on St.Maarten. Jones was diagnosed with AIDS in the early 90s and is recorded as the first person who publicly revealed his status on the island.

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