In the Garifuna communities of Honduras, it's an act of courage to admit to being HIV positive. With a grant from the Pulitzer Center, photographer David Rochkind and I interviewed people who overcame fear and discrimination to go public with their diagnosis and help educate others. The project resulted in an article and video for Time.com and a radio piece for National Public Radio. I also co-wrote and recorded a song about HIV with Garifuna recording artist Aurelio Martinez. The track is used in the video and can be heard here.
According to the Honduran government and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4.5 percent of the Garifuna population in the country is HIV positive, a proportion more than five times as high as in the nation as a whole. To put that in perspective, no country in the Western Hemisphere has a rate nearly that high, and it's twice as high as Haiti's. While factors fueling the problem include widespread poverty and a tendency for men to migrate to areas rife with the virus, some of the main culprits are social stigma, discrimination and a lack of HIV education.
As the video shows, local communities are using theatre and the arts to combat those ills and educate the population about HIV prevention. From local social workers to health ministry and NGO officials, those who know the Garifuna epidemic best say this cultural approach can be more effective than traditional forms of education such as handing out pamphlets. That's because music, dance and storytelling are such vital components of Garifuna culture that they engage people and help them reverse bad habits such as unprotected sex.
This story was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Read more on the story's project page.
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