Caribbean health ministers plug unified HIV/AIDS care strategy
Stabroek News
March 8, 2002

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Caribbean health ministers recently held a successful round of discussions with representatives of leading pharmaceutical companies on access to care for people living with HIV/AIDS, according to a Caribbean Community (CARICOM) release.

The regional meeting, which brought together delegates from eight Caribbean countries, including six health ministers, five pharmaceutical companies and UN delegates, was held at the Hilton Hotel, Kingston Jamaica, from February 18-19, and was organised by the CARICOM Secretariat, along with the Government of Jamaica, UNAIDS and WHO/PHO.

The health ministers pledged to share their knowledge, expertise and experience and to work together in an effort to maximize access to care among persons living with HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean, the release stated.

The ministers also agreed on the need to increase the level of national resources spent on HIV/AIDS and to develop a joint common strategy for improving access to care in the region.

In addition, they emphasised the need to scale-up interventions in order to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS that is depleting the workforce. They also underscored the development of a common framework for ensuring that HIV medicines and related services are available at affordable prices to all the countries in the region, the release said.

Dr Eddy Greene of the CARICOM Secretariat, speaking at the meeting said: "This collective action is a critical initiative of the Pan Caribbean partnership to fight against HIV/AIDS and is yet another attempt by CARICOM for joint strategies aimed at investments in our human resources with equity. With the support of the United Nations agencies and the pharmaceutical industry, the region will develop sound infrastructure and technical capacities to meet the care need of people living with HIV/AIDS." And Dr Douglas Slater, health minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, who chaired the working session, said that CARICOM had the political will to fight HIV/AIDS and creating new partnerships in accelerating access to care was a step towards fulfilling the commitments made in the Declaration of Commitment of the UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS.

Welcoming the start of this initiative, UNAIDS Director Dr Peter Piot stated, "The Caribbean countries have taken an important step in the fight against HIV/AIDS by coming together to accelerate access to care for people living with AIDS in the region. By acting together and early, they are clearly demonstrating their political will for scaling-up." He said too that the initiative will bring hope to thousands of people living with HIV and will be a model that can be replicated in other parts of the world.

The Caribbean Heads of Government had mandated the CARICOM secretariat as well as the UN agencies to facilitate the process of accelerating access to care as one of the priorities of the Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV/AIDS, which they endorsed in the Nassau Declaration 2001: The Health of the Region is the Wealth of the Region.

Dr Tomris Turmen, executive director in charge of HIV/AIDS in WHO, acknowledged the mandate and said, "WHO will use its technical expertise in the area of HIV/AIDS care to support the Caribbean countries in their challenging commitment."

This initiative is the first time that a regional approach has been undertaken to discuss joint strategies to provide HIV/AIDS care in the region, the release said.

The CARICOM countries represented were the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Grenada, Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines.