Arlene Husbands reflects on returning to her native Barbados after working for years as a health educator and program administrator in New York City hospitals and clinics. “I began to learn about the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the Caribbean,” she says. “The statistics were staggering. It was time to roll up my sleeves and bring back some of the experience I had to the country where I was born.”
Born in Barbados, Husbands moved to Brooklyn with her family while she was in high school in 1976. An interest in science and medicine, combined with a desire to teach and help others, led her to a career in health education and management.
Her work as a teacher, patient advocate, and health care administrator was diverse. She served as a junior high school teacher, an administrator for Planned Parenthood and a hospital radiation department, and a hypertension disease prevention specialist, educating patients on making healthy choices. She coordinated a city hospital pediatric HIV/AIDS program for women and children before returning to Barbados in 1998. There, she worked for the United Nations’ International Labour Organization (ILO), developing HIV/AIDS workplace policies and programs prior to joining EDC in 2008.
As EDC’s Caribbean Program Coordinator for Barbados, Husbands works closely with the Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV and AIDS (PANCAP-CARICOM) and EduCan—a regional network of representatives from ministries of education who develop HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention policies and programs for students, teachers, and school staff.
Have attitudes and behaviors around HIV/AIDS changed since you returned to Barbados more than 10 years ago?
The stigma is still there—in Barbados and across the region. But we have made tremendous gains in teaching people to assess themselves and change their risky behaviors. We’ve been developing behavior change communication programs for the education sector that work in concert with the health care sector, so together we can reach and educate the population.
As far as ending discrimination against people living with HIV and AIDS, we are working toward that with continued education and by giving them a seat at the table and involving them in the programs EDC is developing with UNESCO and our Caribbean partners. Persons affected have a big role to play—they can contribute unique personal experiences and perspectives that are helpful in addressing HIV-related stigma and discrimination.
How has involving people living with HIV/AIDS affected the programs EDC develops?
People living with HIV and AIDS were part of developing the GIPA [Greater Involvement of Persons Living with HIV and AIDS] Toolkit, and now we’re advocating to make them part of the Roving GIPA Institute, which will conduct trainings for educators, health care providers, and community leaders across the Caribbean. These people don’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk. We are working with governments to impress upon them that people living with HIV and AIDS must be fully involved in program delivery at all levels to effectively address the issue of stigma and discrimination.
What is most gratifying about your work?
I feel honored to have been able to come back and contribute to the health care system in Barbados—to make a change in people’s attitudes and behaviors. I’m very passionate about the work I do to improve people’s lives and to be involved in a training program that supports people who are living with HIV and AIDS.
At the beginning of each day, I set out to make a difference in somebody’s life—whether it’s getting a government official to move a policy or program along or urging a family member or friend to accompany a patient to a doctor’s appointment. It doesn’t have to be a big thing; the little things matter, too. Impacting someone’s life gives me the impetus and the drive to go forward the next day with the same focus.