Expert says stigma eradication important to HIV/AIDS fight
Guyana Chronicle
November 2, 2002

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CONSOLIDATING the structural and operational framework within which CARICOM countries are going to move forward in the fight against HIV/AIDS was a significant outcome of the just concluded second annual meeting of Pan Caribbean Partnership (PANCAP), said experts who attended.

One of them, Ms Angela Trenton-Mbonde said it was agreed, at Le Meridien Pegasus Hotel venue for the Monday and Tuesday caucus, that the stigma attached to the pandemic should be eradicated to create a more supporting environment for persons living with the deadly disease.

She said, to this end, officials of the closely knit entities that comprise PANCAP are working feverishly to devise strategies for curbing the spread in the region, each contributing its bit and together presenting a strong team for the battle.

PANCAP was established in February 2001, with new hope and vision to mobilise the collective resources of the Caribbean and the world at large to provide a unified approach and strategy to HIV/AIDS.

PANCAP has since achieved considerable breakthroughs, especially in the area of accelerating access to treatment and care and the two-day deliberation was to, among other things, approve its structure and establish a firm basis for expediting and implementing the Regional Strategic Framework.

Trenton-Mbonde said, a few years ago, University of the West Indies (UWI) determined it would require US$350M to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic in an efficient and effective manner in the Caribbean.

"We are still far away from that. We have the US$130M committed and pledged but are still awaiting US$220M.

"And we should not forget that the estimate was made by the university in 1998. By now that amount must have increased, looking at the way prices are going up for everything," she stated.

Trenton-Mbonde said, with the collective resources of all involved, PANCAP can really make a difference.

She maintained that the stigma and discrimination must be eliminated completely, because it is the single most powerful force preventing an expanded response to the epidemic.

It affects prevention by driving people underground and many do not want to go for voluntary counselling and testing.

Although those affected need care and treatment, they put off going because of not wanting to experience discrimination.

"...this is an issue that we are collectively grappling with," Mbonde pointed out.

She said one of the things noted at the meeting just ended is the tremendous progress made in the Caribbean, with respect to care and treatment.

Regional Advisor to PANCAP, Ms Cynthia Eledu recalled that, in 1998, the CARICOM (Caribbean Community) Secretariat realised AIDS was having a serious impact on the region and appointed a group of persons from regional institutions to look at the situation and develop regional strategic plans to address the issue.

Also speaking to reporters after the conference, she said the work was completed in 2000 but, last year, CARICOM Heads of Government recognised the seriousness of the situation and decided to establish a mechanism for addressing HIV/AIDS, to include all the major players such as governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the Private Sector, multilateral donors and other agencies.

Eledu explained that PANCAP is responsible for ensuring there is some coordination of the regional response to HIV/AIDS and advocacy at the highest level while mobilising resources.

She said a substantial amount of resources is now being mobilised and many activities executed with the support of bilateral donors.

Eledu said there is an increase in the flow of resources into the Caribbean, not necessarily going into the CARICOM Secretariat (though some of it goes towards coordinating response) but into national programmes at the country level, enabling implementation of HIV/AIDS prevention and control activities.

She estimated that about US$130M has reached the region as a whole, comprising both cash and pledges, some of which will be garnered in coming years.

Eledu said it is important that, apart from the many other donor agencies which made pledges, the World Bank has committed US$150M to countries interested in accessing loans for HIV/AIDS prevention and control programmes.

Some, including Grenada, Jamaica and Barbados, have already taken advantage of this offer while others are considering it.

Dr Yitades Gebre, of Jamaica HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Project Unit and Coordinator of the National AIDS Programme, said the Secretariat has taken that development into account and is aware of the commitment of political leaders to address the epidemic and the financial support of international and bilateral donors.

He said National AIDS Programme Coordinators have responsibility to speed up the response, organise the management structure in each country, develop the capacity to absorb new resources and expand collaboration amongst regional international entities, too.

Fighting HIV/AIDS, as well, is Caribbean Regional Network for people living with HIV and AIDS (CRN+), which was established in 1996.

Representing CRN+, Ms Yolanda Simon remarked that the plight of those living with AIDS is not usually put on the table but she is happy the work done over the last few years has begun to bear fruit.

She pointed to the usefulness of peddling prevention, observing that there is life beyond the diagnosis.

Mr Stephenson Sandiford, who represented bilateral donor agencies at the conference, agreed PANCAP is a valuable forum for exchanging information and providing a more coordinated response in support of national and regional efforts to address HIV/AIDS.

He believes that, through forums like PANCAP, there could be more effective programming to support the drive in the region.

CARICOM Youth Ambassador, Mr Sergio Belfor acknowledged the large number of youths diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in the region and advocated that they must have a say in the planning, decision-making and implementation processes.

He said, since young people are being affected and if PANCAP is to have further success, young people must be involved at such forums.

Belfor announced that they are working towards the establishment of youth networks at the community, national and regional levels and said he was glad to hear the networking will be supported by a donor agency.

Dr Roland Antonius, of the Netherlands/Aruba, has the "great hope" that PANCAP will be successful in the end.

He said the struggle against HIV/AIDS can only be effective by being all inclusive and identified national solidarity as an important facet in the effectiveness of the approach.

All the people of the Caribbean should see themselves as being part of the problem.

Gebre admitted that Guyana is making tremendous efforts to tackle HIV/AIDS.

He said the National AIDS Programme Secretariat here is trying very hard to meet the demands and, compared to other Caribbean countries, it has made reasonable progress, given the percentage of persons affected locally.

Among the organisations involved in the campaign are Lifeline Counselling and Red Cross in Georgetown, Roadside Baptist Church in Berbice, Cry of AIDS in Bartica and groups in Linden.