Legal framework needed to combat HIV/AIDS -Ramsammy
Stabroek News
November 4, 2003

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It is time for policies and strategies on HIV and AIDS to be supported by laws and regulations, says Minister of Health, Dr Leslie Ramsammy.

Ramsammy was at the time addressing the opening session of a review of the National Policy on HIV and AIDS, a collaboration of the National AIDS Committee (NAC) and the National AIDS Programme Secretariat (NAPS) yesterday. The two-day consultation is being convened at the Guyana National Service (GNS) Sports Club, Carifesta Avenue.

Ramsammy noted that the national strategic plan was based on the policy document and while it addressed many of the fundamental principles, it perhaps did not go far enough and this could be remedied in the review.

He said that there was a need to guarantee that persons living with HIV and AIDS lead a dignified life and he urged the participants to make a committed effort to fight against the virus and help those infected.

Programme Manager of NAPS, Dr Morris Edwards, said policies needed to be reviewed from time to time as some might have become obsolete. He pointed out that the HIV and AIDS policy was developed in the early to mid-1990s and had not been revised since. Also, since the development of the policy, there has been a “quantum leap in our understanding and response to HIV and AIDS. For example, there is a better understanding of how this virus destroys the immune system resulting in the design and manufacture of effective drugs to combat HIV.”

It has become imperative for Guyana’s policy makers to articulate very strategic policies to deal with the issue of availability and accessibility to anti-retroviral drugs, he added.

“Who would be treated? What drugs will we use? Who will be allowed to prescribe or administer these anti-retroviral?” are some of questions the policy makers have to ask themselves.

Dr Edwards noted that there had also been a rapid increase in technology, which had seen the development of tests that give results in minutes. “However, the availability of such technologies has resulted in some new challenges,” Dr Edwards said and made reference to an advertisement on television, which promoted the rapid test. He pointed out that persons who would have purchased that test would have not been pre-counselled and would not have all the information and also many of them would have been depending on one test, which was against all laws. “The ways you deal with these issues is by having clearly defined and well thought out policies...”

Giving the history of the policy, Chairperson of NAC, Desiree Edghill said that the draft was developed in 1993 in order to ensure effective management of HIV/AIDS. This policy was subsequently revised and a second draft was prepared and during the latter part of 1995 members of legal and ethical sub-committees of NAC reviewed the second draft. A workshop was held on March 28, 1996 at Hotel Tower where the draft policy was discussed in order to finalise the document.

According to her, the policy represented the views of some 112 organisations.