Enough of the nice noises
Guyana Chronicle
November 30, 2001

FACING up to the HIV/AIDS pandemic is high on the agenda of many countries around the world.

It was high among priority matters for Commonwealth Health Ministers at a meeting due to end yesterday in Christchurch, New Zealand and the issue has special attention for the United Nations.

The New Zealand meeting was to set the direction of Commonwealth health strategies for the next three years.

Opening the meeting, Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon said its theme of 'Priority setting in health systems' was timely and important. "On the one hand, governments have to deal with relentless public demands for quality health services, while on the other, they face overstretched human and financial resources."

Health authorities and the Government here would appreciate only too well this point by the Secretary-General, given the serious disparities in the quality of health care and available resources between developing and developed countries.

"Health inequality is one of the central issues we are facing today. And we can only address it by acting collectively." Health and development were intimately linked and "a healthy nation is likely to be better educated and to use its knowledge to improve its prospects", he said.

Mr. McKinnon stressed that one of the most urgent reasons for maximum Commonwealth-wide co-operation is the HIV/AIDS pandemic. In 1999, at their summit in Durban, South Africa, Commonwealth heads of government declared HIV/AIDS a global emergency.

"Since then, at numerous regional forums, they have committed themselves to make the fight against HIV/AIDS the highest priority in their development plans", he noted.

"The devastation caused by the disease defies imagination," said Mr. McKinnon.

World AIDS Awareness Day is tomorrow and Health Minister, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy feels all Guyanese have a role to play to fighting the dreaded disease.

The statistics are frightening and all the right noises are being made but there is the feeling that the international and local campaign is still not fully on the right track.

Commonwealth citizens, including Guyanese, account for nearly 30 per cent of the world population but they account for almost two thirds of people infected by HIV. The effect of AIDS on young people is particularly worrying: every minute, three more young people get infected by the disease, according to Mr. McKinnon.

The Commonwealth has identified education as a key in the fight against HIV/AIDS. "When people are better informed about HIV and understand how the virus is transmitted, they are better able to protect themselves. Only education can achieve this", the Secretary-General said in New Zealand.

Given the relentless public demands for quality health services and the overstretched human and financial resources competition governments in developing countries face, Guyana can benefit from cooperation between Commonwealth countries.

A UN advisor in the Caribbean has slammed the hypocrisy and rhetoric of Caribbean leaders on the matter, saying, "We are not moving fast anywhere in the Caribbean from the rhetoric to action."

Time to end the nice noises and get the action going.