`Stop stigma and discrimination today’ - Minister Ramsammy
Guyana Chronicle
December 2, 2003

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" For our brothers and sisters who live with HIV, we must treat them with dignity and respect. Stigma and discrimination are potent driving forces for HIV/AIDS. If we are going to stop this pandemic, then we must destroy stigma and discrimination," said Minister Ramsammy. In a speech to observe World AIDS Day.

Noting that there has been expanded treatment and care from one treatment centre at the Georgetown Public Hospital to all Regional Hospitals, and the Health Minister hopes to add more centres in 2004, the Minister said his Ministry hopes to “very rapidly to introduce VCT and treatment and care to dozens of centres nationally," disclosed Ramsammy.

He pointed out that the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV (PMTCT) is a pilot project that has proven to be successful. The initial project saw four centres functioning in the city. There are now 20 PMTCT centres established in seven Regions throughout the country.

"With this programme we hope not only to provide care, treatment and support to pregnant women and young mothers who are HIV positive, but also to prevent babies from becoming infected," he said.

Recently, Guyana has been able to lower the prices for triple therapy combination HAART to under $US 200 per person per year, the lowest price available unconditionally anywhere in the world. President Bharrat Jagdeo has offered this price to all Caribbean countries.

Minister Ramsammy acknowledged the non-governmental organisations, the private sector, the churches, families and communities who have worked diligently together to thwart the lethal pathway resulting from HIV/AIDS in Guyana.

Some of the contributors include: the Words Have Power, Ready Body, Linden Care Foundation, Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association (GRPA), Lifeline, Hope Foundation, the #68 Roadside Baptist Church, Comforting Hearts, Artistes in Direct Support. The work being done at St. Joseph's Mercy Hospital was also recognised.

"In all of this, Guyana owes gratitude to our international partners, mainly UNAIDS, PAHO/WHO, UNICEF, UNDP, the US Emergency Fund and its collaborating agencies, The US Embassy, USAID, CDC. We are also working with the World Bank and the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to significantly increase the resources at our disposal for the fight against HIV/AIDS," the Health Minister stated.

Between 18,000 and 25,000 Guyanese are living with HIV/AIDS today. More than 1,000 Guyanese would have died in 2003 from AIDS, with about 200 children born with the virus.

"These are not just sobering numbers, they are frightening numbers. In every Region of our country, among every ethnic group, in rich and poor communities and families, among young and old and even among our new-borns, HIV/AIDS has made its presence felt," added the Minstar.

He noted that the pandemic has assumed Armageddon proportions. Reference was made to countries such as Botswana and Swaziland where almost 40 per cent of the population is living with HIV/AIDS. More than 40 million persons are living with HIV/AIDS, with 16,000 becoming infected each day and 8,000 dying each day around the world.

"Fortunately, as we observe World AIDS Day 2003, Guyana is mounting a valiant struggle against HIV/AIDS. I am genuinely encouraged as I see everyday our people becoming mobilised and galvanised for the fight against this horrendous disease," the Health Minister said.