US impressed with Guyana response to HIV/AIDS By Shirley Thomas
Guyana Chronicle
March 21, 2004

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UNITED States Ambassador to Guyana, Mr. Roland Bullen has said that his Government is very impressed with Guyana’s response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The response is being led by the Ministry of Health and local NGOs.

Commenting that HIV has been accorded a very high priority on the government of Guyana’s health agenda, Mr. Bullen said that the United States government has also taken note of the quality of the programmes.

Concurring with the United Nations Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS, that `Prevention must be the mainstay of our response’, Ambassador Bullen stressed that HIV prevention means using “every effective weapon” to stop the infection from occurring. And on a note of hope, he stated that even in cases where persons have been infected, with recent advances in treatment, more people with HIV and AIDS are now living longer.

Ambassador Bullen made these remarks at the recent launch of the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Behaviour Change Communication Initiative held at Le Meridien Pegasus.

The Social Marketing Programme, launched by USAID, through its implementing partner, Population Services International (PSI), employs a three-pronged approach to HIV/AIDS Prevention and:

* advocates the use of the ABC-model (Abstinence; Being Faithful and Consistent Condom use);

* introduces and strongly supports the consistent and correct use of the VEVE brand of Latex condoms as an effective low cost/high quality method of preventing the transmission of HIV – especially by high risk groups

* announces the imminent opening up of `NEW START’, a programme which will enhance voluntary counselling and testing services by public and private groups around the country, with professionalism and confidentiality being their watch words..

Presenting statistics which are a grim reminder of the devastation caused by HIV/AIDS, Ambassador Bullen noted that in the last year alone, an additional five million people across the globe have become infected with HIV; three million more have died (including 500,000 children); and in Guyana, it is estimated that there are some 16,000 People Living with HIV and AIDS (PLWHA).

Meanwhile, statistics from the US Department of Health and Human Services show that at the end of 2003, an estimated 40 million people worldwide were living with HIV/AIDS - 37 million adults and 3.5 million children who are younger than 15 years. Approximately two thirds of these people (26.6 million) live in Sub-Saharan Africa.

During 2003, an estimated five million new HIV infections occurred worldwide, meaning that there were about 14,000 new infections each day. More than 95 per cent of these infections occurred in developing countries, and nearly 50 per cent were among females.

Worldwide, approximately 11 of every 1,000 adults aged 15 to 49 are HIV-infected.

In 2003, about 8,000 young people became infected with HIV each day: 2,000 of them - children under the age of 15 years, and 6,000 in the 15–24 age group.

And in 2003 alone, HIV/AIDS associated illnesses caused the deaths of some three million people worldwide, including an estimated 500,000 children younger than 15 years.

Meanwhile the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) estimates that well over 210,000 women in the Caribbean are HIV, and this does not include Guyana’s count which is included in Latin America 430,000 infected women.

Addressing the consequences and effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic such as the loss of a significant other – be it a mother, father, child or other loved one, Mr. Bullen described it as “a loss we cannot qualify, and a pain we cannot adequately describe.’

“Confronting the threat of HIV and AIDS must be an important and urgent responsibility for each and every one of us,” he charged.

UNICEF officials on Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) at a UNICEF OVC Symposium held at the Cara Inn recently, drew to the attention of participants, the stark reality in relation to HIV/AIDS affecting children.

Sourcing `Children on the Brink 2002, UNAIDS and UNICEF’, the panelists, including visiting UNICEF Senior Advisor on OVC, Mr. Mark Connolly, and Programme Officer, UNICEF/Honduras, unveiled the scenario.

The report states that by 2010, an estimated 106 million children under the age of 15 world-wide would have lost one or both parents, with 25 million of this group orphaned due to AIDS.

And examining the Guyana scenario, UNICEF Special Representative in Guyana, Ms. Miriam de Figueroa, said it is estimated that locally, 10.8 per cent or 23,000 children will be orphaned by the year 2010. Of this number 40.5 per cent will be orphaned due to AIDS.

But frightening as situation appears, Ambassador Bullen pointed to a glimmer of hope in the response to the epidemic, through placing emphasis on ‘Prevention’ strategies.

Said Mr. Bullen: “While we are aware of the potential impact the epidemic can have on the Guyanese population, we also recognise that there is a great degree of hope in avoiding further disaster, through the increase of preventive efforts.”

He pointed to an increasing need for prevention effort to help those infected maintain safer behaviour, and to help others, especially those at risk - stay uninfected.

Ambassador Bullen expressed the view that, since HIV represents one of the greatest challenges of our time, an effective response to the epidemic would demand working together, and commitment from ‘all of us’.

To this end he said that, in order to maximise the impact of their efforts, the United States is committed to using the government, the private sector, civil society groups and others to develop a comprehensive response to expand treatment, care, support and prevention services.

Noting that the goal is to prevent some 2,000 new infections by 2008, Ambassador Bullen concluded: “It makes sense for us to invest in fighting HIV and AIDS through prevention initiatives.”

Additionally, one of the goals of the Global Call to Action - UNGASS Declaration of Commitment, in relation to Prevention of HIV/AIDS, and now being actively pursued by Government and NGO’s in Guyana is:

“By 2005, strengthen the response to HIV/AIDS in the world of work by establishing and implementing Prevention and Care Programmes in public, private and informal work sectors, and take measures to provide a supportive work place environment for People Living with HIV/AIDS.”