Guyana poised to pass HIV laws
Guyana Chronicle
March 8, 2004

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Guyana is among seven Caribbean countries that may soon pass laws to protect people with HIV and AIDS against stigma and discrimination.

The proposals are being formulated by the Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV/AIDS (PANCAP).

The other countries are Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Dominica and Barbados.

Delegates at a recent three-day conference in the Dominican Republic said a major obstacle to fighting the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, continued to be a factor in the discrimination of infected persons by communities and employers.

The new recommendations by PANCAP propose draft legislation to protect people from being fired from their jobs.

They would also make it compulsory for infected people to get treatment and care ensuring they are not discriminated against by health services.

St. Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Dr. Denzil Douglas, who represents CARICOM on HIV matters, told the BBC Caribbean Service that the aim was to improve the lives of those living with HIV/AIDS.

"These are some specific laws that we are trying to review. Those at the workplace and those that govern their rights to access healthcare," Mr. Douglas said.

The Prime Minister said the controversial issue of homosexuality was also under discussion.

"The specific laws and criminality of people and men who have sex with men, if it is prudent or not to give condoms to children in schools or condoms to prisoners in prisons these are some of the specific areas that are going to be looked at in this initiative," Mr. Douglas said.

He noted that if the feasibility study by the seven countries goes well, the hope is that ultimately anti-discrimination laws will be adopted by all CARICOM countries.

The conference also suggested that Caribbean countries should adopt a regional approach to fighting AIDS.

Officials said countries are wasting resources by adopting different approaches to fighting HIV in the British, French, Spanish and Dutch Caribbean - especially in view of the high level of regional travel and tourism.

One example given was discounted anti-retroviral drugs for AIDS patients.

While some Caribbean Community countries received a discount, French and Dutch territories were left out of the deal that was signed last year between the 15-member regional bloc and pharmaceutical companies.

The Caribbean has the second highest rate of HIV infection after Sub-Saharan Africa.

An estimated 2.4% of people, or 500,000, - excluding Cuba where infection rates are low - have HIV. Sub-Saharan Africa has an 8.8% infection rate.

So far, education and treatment programmes have mostly been targeted at individual countries or territories.

Guyana and Haiti, for example, will benefit under a five-year, US$15 billion US plan approved last year to combat the virus in Africa and the Caribbean.

Though the countries' infection rates are among the region's highest, with about 2.5% infected in Guyana and 5% in Haiti, Caribbean leaders have complained that the US plan ignores other countries in need. (BBC NEWS)