Failure to deal with HIV/AIDS will doom region to perpetual poverty -Dr Ramsammy
Guidelines for talks with drug companies being drawn up
Stabroek News
September 20, 2001

Minister of Health, Dr Leslie Ramsammy said on Tuesday that if the Caribbean could not find an effective way soon to deal with HIV/AIDS, its citizens will be doomed to live in perpetual poverty.

The minister issued the stark warning on Tuesday at the opening ceremony of the two-day meeting organised by the Caribbean Epidemiology Centre (CAREC). The meeting ended yesterday and is the Caribbean's initiative to improve treatment and care for people living with HIV/AIDS.

Deliberations over the two days at Le Meridien Pegasus Hotel were expected to pave the way for the provision of cheaper and affordable treatment and supporting mechanisms for infected persons and their families.

Ramsammy noted that Guyana is now in the process of formulating a poverty reduction plan and pointed out that HIV/AIDS is perhaps the single most important impediment to alleviating impoverishment.

Ramsammy said that Guyana has joined the rest of the Caribbean to "fight back and (we're) not laying down and playing dead." He cautioned that discussions should not be about what the HIV/AIDS situation is but rather what will be done to address the problem. He said that it was accepted a long time ago that HIV/AIDS is a serious problem for the various countries and it is not only a public health issue but represents a developmental and in some cases a security problem.

He noted that Guyana has acknowledged what needs to be done but for various reasons is unable to do it. "We have taken ownership of the problem, we have reconciled ourselves to the fact that HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean is our problem," and now Guyana must take ownership of the solution.

The health minister stressed that treatment and care must become an integral part of the Caribbean's programme.

The objectives of the two-day exercise were to formulate a regional strategy and plan of action for attaining and consolidating care and treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS; develop a regional negotiating position with pharmaceutical companies regarding access to anti-retroviral drugs and other drugs against opportunistic infections; recommend action to support regional resource mobilization for HIV/AIDS programmes, including resources from the United Nations Global Fund on HIV/AIDS; and advise the September caucus of Ministers of Health in Washington on the activities planned under a regional strategy for "accelerated access to care for persons living with HIV/AIDS and guidelines for the negotiations with pharmaceutical companies."

President Bharrat Jagdeo, who was asked to assist the cause by Head of CAREC's Special Programme on Sexually Transmitted Infections (SPSTI), Dr Bilali Camara who chaired the opening session, formally launched the initiative. In his brief remarks the president suggested that maybe the Caribbean has not made its case strong enough to potential donors in soliciting assistance to fight the problem.

Director of CAREC, Dr James Hospedales said that the meeting was one that is long overdue. He said that CAREC has estimated that over half a million persons are living with the dreaded disease in the region, which is more than the population in Suriname and a little less than the population of Guyana. He noted that one of the first responsibilities in dealing with the problem is identifying those who are living with the disease and providing proper care and treatment for them.

He observed that while the world is about twenty years into the epidemic, proper care and treatment have not been provided for those affected yet he hoped that maybe in the next twenty years one would be able to look back and say that the meeting was an important one towards that goal. And CARICOM Assistant Secretary General, Human and Social Development, Dr Edward Greene referring to what has been happening at the regional level in the fight against the dreaded epidemic, disclosed that at the special session of the United Nations General Assembly earlier this year Cuba offered to assist the Caribbean to provide treatment and care for persons living with HIV/AIDS.

Further, Brazil has also offered to assist with technology in the production of anti-retroviral vaccines. Trinidad and Tobago is currently involved in an AIDS vaccine trial.

And according to the assistant secretary general, the project implementation unit of the European-CARICOM Institutional Strengthening Project for HIV/AIDS has already been launched.

The project which is funded by the European Union (EU) has acted as a catalyst for attracting support from other donors.

While there are lots of activities contemplated in the area of treatment, Dr Greene stressed that it is now time for implementation.

He said that CARICOM sees the two-day initiative as an integral part of the strategic plan of action of the Caribbean partnership for HIV/AIDS project which the institution is co-ordinating.

Dr Greene pointed out that although the region has been responding rapidly to HIV/AIDS, it is not keeping apace with the "galloping epidemic that is ravaging our human resources."

Special Advisor to the Minister of Health of Haiti, Dr Claude Surena also spoke at the meeting.