Arlene Husbands: Making a Difference in the Caribbean

Born in Barbados, Arlene Husbands moved to Brooklyn with her family while she was in high school in 1976. Working for years as a health educator and program administrator in New York City hospitals and clinics, she eventually returned to Barbados. As EDC’s Caribbean Program Coordinator, 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.

What prompted your return to Barbados?

I began to learn about the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the Caribbean and 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.

What is the HIV/AIDS situation like now in the Caribbean?

Stigma and discrimination continue to undermine the response—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. We are working toward ending discrimination against people living with HIV and AIDS, 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.

How do EDC programs involve people living with HIV/AIDS?

People living with HIV/AIDS have a big role to play—they contribute unique personal experiences and perspectives that are essential in addressing HIV-related stigma and discrimination. So we are working with governments to impress upon them that these people must be fully involved in program delivery at all levels. To help countries do this, we recently developed a toolkit called GIPA [Greater Involvement of Persons Living with HIV and AIDS] and people with HIV/AIDS were a part of that. 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.

What is most gratifying about your work?

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. 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.