PANCAP general meeting
Income criteria for AIDS, malaria fund unfair -Asst Caricom Secretary-General
Stabroek News
November 13, 2003

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It is unfair that some countries in the Caribbean are being disqualified from receiving money from the Global Fund for AIDS, malaria and TB on the basis of an income classification derived mainly from their Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a top CARICOM official said yesterday.

Assistant Secretary-General of CARICOM, Dr Edward Greene, said that this is a notion that should be challenged.

Stating that the Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV/AIDS (PANCAP) needs to engage the Global Fund for HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in further discussions about the level of support, Dr Greene said the fund ignores the fact that HIV/AIDS and other "catastrophic diseases reinforce the poverty trap especially in circumstances like the Caribbean where poverty levels are relatively high, structural unemployment, also high and the income distribution, skewed".

The CARICOM assistant head, speaking at the third annual general meeting (AGM) of PANCAP at Le Meridien Pegasus Hotel yesterday, said that there is also need to challenge the notion on the basis of empirical evidence that the Caribbean countries are highly vulnerable to natural disasters that wreak havoc on physical and human resources with implications for public finance and the burden of increasing debt.

In congratulating the countries that were successful in receiving financing from the Global Fund, including Guyana and PANCAP, Dr Greene noted that the fund's emphasis on care and treatment, prevention and human rights would be the priorities that PANCAP would pursue over the immediate period in its attempt to accelerate the response to HIV/AIDS.

He acknowledged that the acquisition of resources from the fund brings new challenges of management and collaboration.

"It is in this regard that PANCAP has the opportunity to rise to the occasion and demonstrate through a collective approach and in the true spirit of the partnership that it can effectively implement the funded programmes with a coordinated strategy," Dr Greene said.

He added that the awards from the fund to eight successful Caribbean projects amount to approximately US$40 million over the first two years and a possible total of US$110 million over a five-year period. But, he added that the sums approved, which include the funding given to Haiti, are "...nowhere near the level that is required to stem the tide of this devastating disease."

Representatives from around the Caribbean and from a number of agencies and organisations that fund HIV/AIDS projects in the Caribbean are attending the two-day meeting.

According to Executive Director of UNAIDS and UN Under Secretary-General, Dr Peter Piot, whose speech at the opening was delivered via a telecast, the challenge now facing PANCAP is to ensure that "we successfully move towards implementation and towards scaling up the response to the epidemic in the Caribbean."

He said the time is now ripe to break the barriers of "our separate `mandates' and work together towards a common cause - prevention of HIV and AIDS and care and support for people living with HIV/AIDS."

Dr Piot feels that this is going to be a true test of the partnership: being able to work together, to pull their resources and share their accountability in order to deliver a scaled-up response. "Our `deliverables' will be measured at the country level - in workplaces, in schools, in communities and families. If any one country, if anyone organisation, if anyone partner fails - we fail."

He said that the various groups have to break the barriers of homophobia, stigma and discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS in the region. "Human rights are not an optional extra - they form the very core of an effective response to the epidemic. If we do not combat stigma and discrimination now, our ability to make advances in prevention of new infections and in care and support will be severely undermined - regardless of how much funding we may have."

And according to Dr Greene, on average one percent of the population of the entire Caribbean or approximately 500,000 persons is infected.

However, he said, the startling facts are that in almost every country 40 percent of the infected adult population are women - a number that is increasing - and the HIV prevalence rates among girls are about five times higher than boys. "What is more this epidemic for which no cure has yet been found shows no sign of easing and is now firmly heterosexual in its mode of transmission."

Dr Greene told the gathering that the economic implications are enormous adding that studies have shown that if unchecked, the total cost to Caribbean countries excluding Haiti could reach US$80 million by the year 2020, with significant reductions in GDP as a consequence.

Chief Operations Officer of the Caribbean Coalition of National AIDS Programme Coordinators (CCNAPC), Renee West-Mendoza, warned that the region should not slide into complacency through comments such as the Caribbean AIDS problem is not comparable to the magnitude of that in sub-Saharan Africa. She further warned that if the region did not challenge the epidemic with full force, and in a coordinated effort, in a few years the window of opportunity to turn the tide of the epidemic around will be closed. While it will not be forever, it will be at a huge cost of life and at an even higher price tag for that of prevention and care interventions.

She urged all to remember that prevention and care are inseparable and that preventing HIV infection is always better, and cheaper, than treating it. "The cost of inaction far outweighs the cost of action!!"

Among the documents distributed to the participants at the meeting was a Progress Report on activities on the PANCAP Coordinating Unit, the designated node of the PANCAP network. Dr Greene informed that the report shows that the unit has been firmly established with three new professionals.

He said that during the course of the meeting there would be reports on special PANCAP activities, including the results of two regional workshops on law, ethics and human rights among other issues.

He said that another important activity has been the accelerated access to the care initiative undertaken in collaboration with PAHO/ WHO, UNAIDS and the W.J. Clinton Foundation, a new partner that has blazed new paths in the negotiations for cheaper anti-retrovirals. He said that the meeting would be receiving an analysis from the Clinton Foundation on its proposals for future cooperation with PANCAP.

Dr Greene said that PANCAP will continue to perfect its systems of governance which include accountability and participation of stakeholders in the decision-making process. He said that those at the meeting must dedicate their deliberations to truly finding the formula for accelerating the implementation of the Regional Strategic framework. "The lives of so many - children, some yet unborn, young men and young women, poor people and other vulnerable groups - depend on our collective efforts in the fight against HIV/AIDS. It is indeed a fight that we cannot afford to lose," Dr Greene said.

PANCAP was launched in Barbados in February 2001.