Regional economies threatened by HIV/AIDS
-conference hears

Stabroek News
October 29, 2002

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The economies of the Caribbean are under threat from HIV/AIDS, as those most affected are persons of working age, a regional conference heard yesterday.

In the context of potentially massive economic and human suffering, the second annual meeting of the Pan Caribbean Partnership (PANCAP) against HIV/AIDS was convened yesterday at Le Meridien Pegasus Hotel aimed at planning the way forward in dealing with the epidemic.

According to Dr Edward Greene, Assistant Secretary-General Human and Social Development, CARICOM Secretariat there are now approximately half a million Caribbean people infected with HIV at a rate of 2.5%, the highest after Sub-Saharan Africa.

He stressed that postponement of action will be reflected in the loss of thousands of lives per year.

"A postponement in investing in care and treatment for PLWA (People Living With AIDS) and in prevention, in particular, would mean a possible exponential increase in resources for more drugs, more hospital space, more human suffering both on the part of the infected and their families, more loss of our productive forces," Dr Greene said.

He said this is so because more young people between the ages of 15-29 will be afflicted or expire than needs to be the case and more mothers would pass on the disease to their unborn children.

The two-day meeting is a direct spin-off from the first PANCAP meeting held in Castries, St Lucia on November 18 and 19, 2001. The membership now includes 27 countries, 11 institutions and 12 donors.

At this meeting a report on the status of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Caribbean was expected to be presented, along with a brief report from PANCAP partners on HIV/AIDS prevention and control activities, their present initiatives and future plans among other issues.

Greene noted that for about fifteen years before the inauguration of PANCAP the region's leaders, medical practitioners, and the public were warned of an impending epidemic. But the warning went generally unheeded, as many preferred to sweep the issue under the carpet. Some, he said, for which tourism was a major export earner preferred to be silent on the matter hoping that by some "magical incantation", the disease would evaporate.

He told participants that their task at the meeting is to pave the way for accelerating the Caribbean's collective action. "We who meet here today for this second annual PANCAP meeting have an opportunity to make the kinds of interventions as policy makers, practitioners, donors, and PLWA that will make a difference."