HIV-AIDS epidemic not on the decline
--National AIDS Committee member

Guyana Chronicle
May 31, 2001

AS scientists continue the search for a cure for the dreaded scourge of HIV/AIDS affecting some 36 million people worldwide, heads of States and Governments are working to formulate a global strategy aimed at combating the epidemic.

Ms Merle Mendonca, a member of Guyana's National AIDS Committee (NAC), said Tuesday that the epidemic is not on the decline as was expected and that governments worldwide feel it should be addressed from a global prospective.

Last week, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGASS) Draft Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS was reviewed by some 30 representatives of various agencies here in Guyana.

HIV means Human Immunodeficiency Virus while AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

Ms Mendonca said it was noted that the document had fundamental weaknesses with respect to human rights. As a result, the group recommended that the document be redrafted.

"A rights-based approach to HIV/AIDS aims to respect and promote all the established rights of people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS," Mendonca said.

The new clauses Guyana hopes to have included in the final draft are: "Recognising that the Caribbean and Latin American is the most affected region outside of Africa and that urgent and appropriate response is needed; ensure that by 2003, the development and implementation of multi-sectorial, national strategies and financing plans for combating HIV/AIDS and to ensure national strategies are developed in close collaboration with the international community; and recognising that effective prevention and care strategies will require increased availability of an access to international public goods including vaccines, condoms and essential drugs".

These additional particulars have to be reviewed by Regional AIDS Committees and other agencies and non-governmental organisations before it is presented at the United Nations 26th Special Session of the General Assembly from June 25 to 27.

Last year, the UN General Assembly took the decision to convene a special session on HIV/AIDS at the highest political level, reporters were told at Tuesday's press briefing held at the Guyana Human Rights Association, Austin Place and Hadfield Street, Georgetown.

Mendonca stressed that if something is not done quickly countries, especially small states like Guyana, will suffer a drastic population reduction.

Dr Morris Edwards, Programme Manager of the National AIDS Programme Secretariat, said the points they felt needed to be included covered areas such as leadership, prevention, care and support, HIV/AIDS and Human Rights, alleviating social and economic impact, research and development, and resources.

He noted that the Caribbean will only receive funding and assistance when the Global HIV/AIDS Fund is established, if the region is highlighted in the document.

Some 330,000 persons, a representation of two per cent of the region's population, are infected with HIV/AIDS. And the most vulnerable group are persons between the ages 19 - 35 years.

For the first quarter this year, more than 100 new HIV/AIDS cases were recorded.

Dr Shreelakshmi Gururuja, Chairman of the United Nations AIDS Theme Group and representative of the United Nations International Children's Fund (UNICEF) said her organisation fully supports Guyana's position on the Action Plan against HIV/AIDS.

The Indian national said that UNICEF will continue to render technical and finance support and that public awareness programmes are essential.

She added that "one is infected by HIV/AIDS and others are affected" and that attention most be placed on the most vulnerable group, the young people.

Guyana is one of the Caribbean states most affected by HIV/AIDS and young people are the most affected, with 75 per cent of all cases occurring in the 15 to 35 years age group.

A National AIDS Programme Secretariat brochure said that between 1987 and June 2000, 1,757 AIDS cases were officially reported here. (AMANDA WILSON)