The situation is daunting Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
December 1, 2001

World AIDS Day message by Health Minister, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy

THE world has observed World AIDS Day since 1988. Guyana has observed World AIDS Day since it was first incepted many years ago.

Guyana's observance this year, however, is a more heightened response as we seek to involve all of Guyana in the fight against HIV/AIDS. More than ever before, today's observance brings messages of compassion, hope, solidarity and understanding.

Worldwide, more than 40 million people now live with HIV/AIDS. Already, more than 20 million people have died from HIV/AIDS. AIDS is definitely the great plague of the modern era.

World AIDS Day finds Guyana as the second most affected country in the Americas. It is estimated that approximately 5.5 per cent of the adult population is infected with HIV. It is projected that approximately 20,000 Guyanese live with HIV/AIDS. Already in the first six months of this year, the number of AIDS cases has exceeded the number for all of 2000.

The number of new transmission also has almost doubled. We do know that AIDS is now ranked as a leading cause of death in Guyana and is the number one cause of death among young people 15-39 years old. At least one Guyanese die every day because of AIDS. Guyanese are at greater risk than we have ever been in our history.

AIDS is undermining our country's economic stability, reversing our recent progress, devastating families and communities and is consuming major amounts of our resources, threatening our efforts at poverty reduction. If the transmission rate continues unabated, the epidemic may also strike at the heart of the political system, impairing prospects for stable governance. Indeed, the situation is daunting.

But even though the circumstances appear disconcerting, Guyana has begun to fight back. In fighting back, we must embrace this year's theme: I CARE, DO YOU?

Essentially, this theme reinforces the fact that success in our fight against this dreaded killer is unequivocally dependent on a united fight. All of us must be involved. In our family, our churches, our schools, our workplaces, we must commit ourselves to prevent transmission, treat and care those already living with HIV/AIDS, stop the stigma and discrimination.

However, HIV/AIDS does not have to be a death sentence. While there is no cure, there are treatments that can allow people to live longer and better lives. These treatments also contribute to lower transmission rates.

The Government has made HIV/AIDS a national priority issue in our efforts to further enhance the health status of the people. HIV prevention, raising awareness, promoting safer sex and fighting discrimination, remains an important pillar in our national programme.

But for the people who already live with HIV/AIDS, treatment and care are also important pillars in a caring and effective programme. The Guyana Government is embarking on a strong treatment and care programme.

We are dismayed by the fact that rich countries could afford drugs while we must pauperise our nation in order to afford these drugs. We do not mind that rich countries have better roads, better schools, better hospitals, their people live better lives, live in fancy homes and drive fancy cars; but there is something fundamentally wrong when only the rich could purchase life.

Unfortunately, the high cost of drugs has made this unpleasant fact the truth. Guyana wants to change this reality. Thus, we have done what it takes to access affordable drugs. Efforts have been successfully made to access affordable drugs. We must now put together a sustainable strategy that includes an enhanced prevention programme and an effective treatment and care programme.

This year World AIDS Day is an opportunity for every Guyanese to commit themselves to the fight against AIDS. It is the duty of each one of us to fight against AIDS.

On Wednesday, President Bharrat Jagdeo was a part of a ceremony in which he was pinned with a red ribbon and he also led the pinning of the staff of the Presidential Secretariat. This kicked off Guyana's observance of World AIDS Day 2001. On Thursday, Members of Parliament were pinned with red ribbons. These are declarations that Guyana's leaders support the Ministry of Health's efforts to combat this killer. We each in our own way must be a FORCE FOR CHANGE.

This fight is not an easy one and it presents daunting challenges. It is not a question of giving out pills, but of financing, transforming and improving health service in general. For Guyana this is a matter of life and death.