…Government makes the disease high priority
Guyana Chronicle
April 13, 2002

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THE local programme to battle the HIV/AIDS pandemic is getting high priority on the Government’s development agenda, evident in the quantity of resources pooled into the National Strategic Plan.

The plan has three components - “A-abstain; B-be careful; and C-condomise, if you cannot be faithful.”

President Bharrat Jagdeo, in a television/radio interview with Attorney-at-Law, Mr. Hubert Rodney this week, said the area is one of great concern for the Government and as such, a five-fold approach has been taken to tackle the killer disease.

The Ministry of Health, in collaboration with several donor and technical agencies, including the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO), is pursuing an aggressive education and awareness campaign to promote responsible sexual behaviour and to tell people more about the virus and its transmission.

Recently, it has been discovered that an accelerated way to prevent the spread of the disease and address the issue of discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS is to include a treatment and care component in the strategic plan. With this in mind, the President said the Government in partnership with the New Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation, started producing anti-retroviral drugs to treat HIV/AIDS patients to prolong their lives.

President Jagdeo said the Government is unable to afford the high cost attached to the production of all the drugs used for treatment and consequently, will pursue the programme in stages.

The first stage is a pilot programme in Regions Six (East Berbice/Corentyne) and Four (Demerara/Mahaica) which is designed to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS from mothers to their children.

Mothers can access the use of niravapine in the form of a capsule both during and after pregnancy, while infants are treated with the same drug in the form of syrup after birth.

The first batch of pills, which is already being utilised, cost the Government $100M. It entails treatment of the mother to protect her unborn child from contracting the virus.

After the baby is delivered, treatment continues for the mother and the infant, lessening the chances of the child being orphaned at a tender age, as it gives the mother additional resistance against the disease. Worldwide, it is accepted as one of the key ways to prevent the spread of HIV.

He said the option of establishing a hospice for He said the option of establishing a hospice for patients to access specialised care and avoid being discriminated against is also being considered by the Government.

“These are some of the issues we are dealing with and a strong policy unit will be coordinating it,’” he told Rodney.

In response to the interviewer’s question on the level of commitment to the programme, the President replied, “The programme has strong political support,” adding that Guyana has also received support for its HIV/AIDS programmes from the international community.

The issue was highly featured at the recently held Third Caribbean/United Kingdom Forum in Guyana, when it was agreed that the effects of HIV/AIDS on the Caribbean, given the rate of infection, which is now the second highest in the world, must be tackled urgently.

The UK pledged support for regional programmes through the Pan-Caribbean Partnership, which is a body established to support the region in its HIV/AIDS initiatives, and is funded by the Department for International Development (DFID). Guyana stands to gain from this, and some of the technical benefits in terms of testing have already been realised.

Approximately 500,000 persons are affected in the region with HIV, while in Guyana, it is estimated that there are about 20,000 people living with the virus.

However, these may not be accurate figures, as people are generally reluctant to have the test done because of the stigma attached to the disease.