President Bush's US$15B proposal
US Senators on HIV/AIDS fact-finding mission here By Samantha Alleyne
Stabroek News
February 24, 2003

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Two United States senators yesterday visited the HIV/ AIDS ward of the George-town Public Hospital as part of a fact-finding mission related to President George W. Bush's US$15B proposal to fight the disease in Africa and two Caribbean countries, Guyana and Haiti.

Senators Mike De Wine of Ohio and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, both Republicans, arrived on Saturday and have since met with non-governmental organisations including LifeLine Counselling and Artistes in Direct Support.

They also had dinner with President Bharrat Jagdeo on Saturday night.

Yesterday, the two senators arrived at the hospital under tight security. Speaking to reporters after the tour, Senator De Wine said one of the principal reasons for them visiting was because Guyana had been designated as one of the two countries in the hemisphere identified in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

"Senator Chafee and I wanted to come here to see first of all what you have done and what we have done together. But also more importantly is to see what together we can do in the future to deal with this problem... I think you have done a very good job but we are looking forward to working together in the future."

He disclosed that one of the things he intended to do on his return to Washington today was to speak to his colleagues on the senate floor and describe the situation in Guyana and what they should be doing in the future in terms of assistance.

He said the visit had enabled him to better understand the situation and in return he would be able to better explain to his colleagues what they needed to do.

It is estimated that 7.5% of Guyanese between the ages of 15 and 45 are infected with the HIV virus.

Senator Chafee said while President Bush had made the request it was the US Congress that would make the real decision in having the money allocated.

"And we are going to have a lot of questions as we go back into this budget session, a lot of pressure and competition for the scarce tax dollars....." He said that it was important for them to visit Guyana to see first-hand and go back and advocate to their colleagues that it was important for the allocation to go to Guyana.

Senator De Wine related that US assistance in the last few years had been focused on education and prevention. However, the proposed assistance would also include treatment and the mother-to-child prevention programme. "It is now a multi-faceted approach which we think is appropriate and so that is a great opportunity for a country such as Guyana. I see great progress being made in this country in regards to prevention, obviously all countries have a long way to go including my country in that area. You can never have too much education, too much prevention.... But we clearly need to make more progress and Guyana needs to make more progress in regards to treatment, in regard to the mother-to-child (transmission)."

He said it broke his heart to see any child or mother suffering who could be treated but acknowledged that what prohibited them from being treated was the money for the drugs. He said persons also had to be trained since those were the two ingredients that had to come together.

He said they hoped to work with the health professionals in Guyana to make that a reality. "This is unfortunately a slow process and our assistance will not happen overnight, I can't come here and say it will happen overnight but this has now begun. We will try as best as we can in Congress to speed that process up."

In answer to a question, De Wine said that there was nothing to say that other countries in the Caribbean would not get assistance at some point: "We have several different ways that the United States is providing assistance, the bulk of funds will be bilateral. It will go directly from the United States to the recipients. Some of the money will go through the World Fund (for HIV/AIDS and malaria)."

He said that the amount of bilateral assistance would be determined on an annual basis. He added that the decision by President Bush to designate Haiti and Guyana was based on the very high incidence of AIDS and the question of need. "And we think that those are two good variables and I see great need here and I see a high incidence of AIDS." He said he also saw competent health experts who were well prepared to be their partners. "That will be a very positive message that we would be taking back to the United States, that this is a country that is ready to work with us as partners and that is good for Guyana."

Minister of Health, Dr Leslie Ramsammy said Guyana was named as a country for assistance mainly because of the work the ministry did with United States Secretary of Health & Human Services, Tommy Thompson on his visit to Guyana during the US/Caribbean engagement on HIV/AIDS last year.

According to the minister there are two programmes from which Guyana is expected to receive money, a US$10B for the mother-to-child prevention programme and the US$15B for the fight against the virus.

He said Guyana would benefit by extending the mother-to-child programme from its pilot to a national programme and general HIV fight. Ramsammy said the fact that the senators visited the country meant that Guyana was being seriously considered and according to him this was the right time since the US Senate's appropriation deliberations start soon.

The senators visited the country with their wives and left for Haiti yesterday. They also visited Colombia and Panama before arriving here.

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