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EDITORIAL - Prof Bain's endgame?

Published:Thursday | May 29, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Having allowed his supporters to peddle the fallacy that his sacking was an attack on academic freedom and free speech, we can now only wonder at the intent of Professor Brendan Bain.

For by failing to declare the larger contextual truth, Professor Bain is helping not only to deepen the poles between protagonists in the gay-rights debate but distracting attention from, and potentially weakening, a project to which he has made an invaluable contribution: the delivery of care to people living with HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean.

Professor Bain is a pioneer in the field. Until his firing a week ago by the University of the West Indies (UWI), he ran Caribbean HIV/AIDS Regional Training (CHART) Network, a regional agency that operates under the umbrella of the university, but is funded mostly by foreign donors. Having retired as an academic, his job at CHART, stripped to the core, was essentially as an administrator.

There is, however, confusion - deliberately or otherwise - among Professor Bain's supporters.

The genesis of his disengagement is an opinion he delivered to a Belizean court on behalf of interests opposing a gay man's challenge of the constitutionality of that country's buggery law. Bain argued that men who have sex with men have a higher incidence of HIV/AIDS, even in countries where the act was legal.

Professor Bain's critics insist that his use of research data was selective. The more important fact is that many regional HIV/AIDS support, human-rights and gay groups with which CHART has to interface, declared a loss of confidence in Professor Bain's stewardship.

Their point is that CHART exists in a larger context than the mechanics of training health workers and caregivers. And Professor Bain had revealed a conflict of interest which could undermine an emerging ethos towards confronting HIV/AIDS in this region.

For instance, Pan Caribbean Partnership on HIV/AIDS (PANCAP) - the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) agency that leads the region's response to the disease and one of CHART's core partners - has among its strategic objectives the removal of punitive laws that perpetuate discrimination and stigma and cause vulnerable groups to shy away from access treatment.

The region's buggery laws, whose retention Professor Bain supported in the Belize affidavit, are among them.

Significant members

Moreover, CHART's advisory board is comcomprised of officials who represent organisations which generally subscribe to the position that such laws undermine the fight against HIV/AIDS.

"Laws that criminalise being HIV-positive, sexual behaviours such as anal sex, or sexual orientation, make it difficult to mount an effective HIV response. Persons who know their sexual behaviour or orientations are illegal are less likely either to go to health services or to speak openly about their sexual behaviour while there, thus limiting their treatment options and prevention efforts," wrote Dr Ernest Massiah, UNAIDS Caribbean representative and CHART board member.

But Professor Bain's supporters claim that the UWI caved in to a 'gay agenda', to the detriment of academic freedom and free speech - an absolute fallacy in this case.

Professor Bain is entitled to express his opinion on any topic. But if, outside the halls of academia, those publicly declared opinions are at variance with settled consensus of the agency he serves, leading to a loss of confidence in his leadership, he should leave with dignity.

As Professor Bain remains silent and the polarisation worsens, CHART is increasingly distracted. The losers are people with HIV/AIDS, straight or gay. That can't be Professor Bain's intent.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.