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THE Government of Canada, through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), is making Cdn.$4.8M available to the Government of Guyana to help it improve its response to the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, (STI) as well as malaria and tuberculosis.
The “Health Information and STI/HIV/TV Prevention and Control” programme, which is intended to span the next four years, will place great emphasis on controlling the spread of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, which, according to the High Commissioner, are invariably twinned in communities where tuberculosis exists.
The signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) took place in the Boardroom of the Ministry of Finance, Main Street, yesterday, with Canadian High Commissioner Mr Serge Marcoux signing on behalf of his Government, and Minister of Finance, Sasenaraine Kowlessar signing on behalf of the Government of Guyana.
Also witnessing the signing were Minister of Health, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy; Deputy High Commissioner, Mr. Murray Kam; Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Rudolph Cummings; Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, Mr. Doorga Singh; Divisional Head of the Projects Cycle Management of the Ministry of Finance, Mr. Tarchand Balgobin, and other officials.
The Canadian High Commissioner, who unveiled the stark reality of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, stated that the disease, which has been around for just 20 years, is killing more people than any other infectious disease.
Within that timeframe span, High Commissioner Marcoux said, “Over 36 million individuals have been infected, of whom more than 15 million are still alive, while 21 million have died.”
With 15,000 new infections every day he stated, the virus is:
· Outstripping efforts to contain it
· Reversing hard won development gains
· Increasing mortality among children under five, and reducing life expectancy in many countries.
· Exacerbating poverty and inequality
· Afflicting the education system
· Striking business and economies, and
· Diminishing political stability and national security in many countries.
And outlining the serious economic impact of the pandemic on developing countries, Mr Marcoux quoted a World Bank report which states: “In 2000, the total cost of the epidemic in the Caribbean alone, was close to 6 per cent of the Gross National Product.”
The Canadian Government has observed that HIV/AIDS weakens the immune system, hindering the body’s ability to fight against other diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria, and that the three diseases are closely linked.
Noting the vulnerability of persons with HIV/AIDS to tuberculosis, for example, Mr. Marcoux explained that an increased pool of tuberculosis infection in a community contributes to its spread to the People Living With HIV and the people around them.
For this reason, he said, the project being launched between Canada and the Government of Guyana will be addressing the two diseases simultaneously.
To this end, the three main components of the project will be:
· Strengthening the health information system
· Improving the national programme for the prevention and control of sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS, and
· Improving the national programme for the prevention and control of tuberculosis.
The High Commissioner admonished officials present that in order to adequately fight the spread of HIV/AIDS, as well as other sexually transmitted infections and tuberculosis, countries must embark on a sustained commitment to strengthen their responses to these problems.
“This involves providing services; providing training, supplies and equipment; strengthening management; and enhancing monitoring and evaluation,” he affirmed.
Praising the Ministry of Health’s response to the epidemic, Mr Marcoux noted that “under the able leadership of the Ministry of Health,” Guyana has demonstrated that political commitment at the highest level is key to controlling these scourges.
This approach, he said, led to the Canadian Government deciding to support the programme - an important component of the Poverty Reduction Strategy Programme approved for Guyana some months ago.
Noting that poverty has been recognised as one of the many factors driving the epidemic, the Marcoux asserted: “Poverty is, therefore, both a cause and a consequence of the epidemic.”
Meanwhile, Minister Ramsammy, in joining the Minister of Finance in acknowledging the humanitarian gesture by CIDA, acknowledged that in Guyana tuberculosis is on the rise, and that there is an association between that disease and HIV/AIDS. For this reason, he said, his Ministry has been seeking solutions to the problem.
Dr. Ramsammy outlined some components of the programme as being:
· Expanding and strengthening the prevention, management and care of persons with STI/HIV/TB - with an investment of Cdn$1,377,842.
· The National TB Prevention and Control Programme Improvement - Cdn-$1,099,842
· Strengthening the Health Information System - Cdn $1,129,409
· Community Health Development and Care - Cdn $798,495
· Gender Strategy - Cdn $48,205
· Information and Communication Strategy - Cdn $146,868
He said the total cost of the project is Cdn $5.52M.
The anticipated outcomes of the project include:
** An improved national programme for the prevention and control of STIs and HIV/AIDS; control of tuberculosis; collection of health data, strengthening human resource capacity to sustain project gains; among others, and
** Increased Canadian capacity in collaboration with other countries with respect to developing, implementing and evaluating programmes designed to promote the health of populations and fostering international partnerships.