Guyana to appeal for help in AIDS fight at UN meet
HIV-infected person for delegation

Stabroek News
June 22, 2001

Guyana will appeal to developed countries at next week's UN meeting on HIV/AIDS for major help in battling the scourge and a Guyanese afflicted by the virus will be on the team to underline the problem.

This was disclosed yesterday by Health Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy at a press conference on Guyana's attendance at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on HIV/AIDS from June 25-27 in New York.

Speaking at his Brickdam ministry, Ramsammy said it is for the developed countries to help those not in a position to provide the resources to fight the "plague."

But in the interim, Ramsammy told Stabroek News that government is continuing negotiations with India's Cipla which is offering an AIDS triple drug cocktail to the world's poor at US$350 per patient per year. He said he has a firm commitment from the company to provide the drugs. However, the minister said that even at the reduced rate Guyana cannot afford to treat all the patients here and will require assistance. Another Indian firm, Aurobindo, on Wednesday announced internationally that it was prepared to offer the drug at US$295 per patient per year.

Dr Ramsammy will be heading Guyana's delegation, which includes a person infected with the disease, and this person would also be addressing the conference.

"We know what we have to do, we know what the problem is and we know what we have to do", Ramsammy asserted. He noted that Guyana has a national strategic plan that was developed after wide consultation and added it was now "time for action".

Dr Ramsammy said that so far most of the country's efforts have been focussed on making people aware of the disease and this will continue and be intensified. "But we need urgently to address the issue of treatment and care. And treatment and care requires money, requires resources. Guyana simply does not have money," the minister said.

In the meantime, Ramsammy said that the programme to prevent mother-to-child transmission of the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV) which causes AIDS will soon be implemented. Under this programme, pregnant women who are infected will be given a one-term treatment that will reduce the probability of transmission of the virus. According to the minister, studies have shown that in countries where the programme was implemented the rate of transmission from mother to child was reduced.

The minister said that the cost for the treatment will be about US$10 per person but an international drug company has agreed to provide Guyana with the medication for free for the pilot project which will be implemented in Regions 10, 4 and 6. However, the ministry will expand the programme into a national one and will pay the additional cost.

The minister said there is need for an aggressive programme to address stigmatization and discrimination against persons infected. Questioned by this newspaper about the AIDS ward in the Georgetown Hospital which has been criticised over the treatment of patients, the minister said that the grouses are "real and not just idle complaints. I think there is justification" but he blamed this on a shortage of staff and pointed out that taking care of persons who are infected is not easy.

Lots of times patients are violent and are a threat to the nurses but he said that the greatest problem is "once we take them there they become ours because nobody comes back to them. We are already short on nurses for the normal patients and we now become housekeepers and that creates its own problem," the minister said. (Samantha Alleyne)