UN declaration
Caribbean to push for recognition as worst-affected AIDS region
Religion seen as obstacle to awareness and prevention

Stabroek News
May 31, 2001

Caribbean countries are expected to push for the region to be declared one of the areas worst-affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic in a vital United Nations document that is being drafted.

UN member states, including Guyana, are currently reviewing the draft declaration of the UN General Assembly Special Session Declaration of Commitment and will reconvene at the end of June to finalise the document.

Guyana's stakeholders have yet to complete a full review of the declaration but Manager of the National AIDS Programme Secretariat in Guyana, Dr Morris Edwards, and members of the National AIDS Committee (NAC) outlined amendments that are likely in this review at a press conference on Tuesday at the Guyana Human Rights Association, Georgetown.

The main amendment is the recognition of the Caribbean and Latin America as the most affected region apart from Africa.

At present Pt. 4 of the Declaration reads: "Recognising that Africa, in particular sub-Saharan Africa is the worst affected region [...] and that the dramatic situation on the continent needs an urgent and execptional response." No mention is made of the Caribbean which suffers the second worst rate of the pandemic, with over 330,000 infected.

The need for this declaration is great, according to Edwards who indicated that competition for a bite of the expected US$7-10 billion Global AIDS Fund will be hot. The Caribbean has already decided to present its amendments as a unit, to empower its cause, and if the recognition of the severity of the disease in the region can be implemented, substantial finance would follow.

Further recommended amendments include the recognition that the epidemic affects all people regardless of disability, gender, wealth or age and that religion is one of the obstacles hampering awareness, care and prevention of the problem.

The leadership section of the document states that "strong leadership at all levels of society and the creation of new forces of solidarity and advocacy are essential for an effective response to the epidemic."

A number of goals are outlined in the section to be achieved on national, regional and global levels, and one of Guyana's recommendations to the draft may be that by 2003 all member countries should have a National Strategic Plan with multi-sectoral involvement and that each national government should commit part of the national budget to this Plan.

One of the major global criticisms of the draft has been the separation of Prevention from the Care, Support and Treatment section.

Edwards expressed a desire to see treatment recognised as an important part of prevention.

Another bone of contention is the area of Patent and Property rights for drugs used to treat the pandemic. Edwards indicated that he would like to see governments commit to reducing the prices of treatment drugs, particularly the expensive anti-retroviral drugs. Furthermore a recommendation has been made to include in the draft a bypass of patent rights.

This would enable countries to manufacture medicines cost-effectively. However, pharmaceutical companies would stand to lose funding pumped into costly research and development initiatives.

These research and development activities may also come under scrutiny with a likely recommendation to the draft being that research companies must make benefits of research available to developing countries if research is carried out in such countries. Edwards remarked that drug trials are sometimes carried out in developing countries and if successful the drugs are then made available in the developed world, no benefits are forthcoming to the poorer states.

The draft highlights poverty as a major factor in the spread of the disease and suggestions have been made to implement a mechanism to address the issue, either through poverty reduction or poverty eradication.

Guyana is expected to support a move to write off the poorest countries' national debts. Donor countries want to ensure that if this happens the money usually mobilised to deal with debt will be channelled into addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

The NAC will be meeting with the Regional AIDS Committees and various agencies and NGOs to finalise Guyana's recommendations for the draft. These recommendations will then be forwarded to the Caribbean representatives.

It is hoped a combined Caribbean list of amendments will be presented to the special session of the General Assembly scheduled for 25-27 June 2001 for Heads and Representatives of State when the Declaration of Commitment is expected to be finalised and signed.

It is estimated that around 200 persons were infected with the disease in Guyana in the first quarter of this year, according to improved statistical gathering techniques.