Guyana in key HIV/AIDS pilot project By Chamanlall Naipaul
Guyana Chronicle
June 23, 2004

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THE Caribbean region’s capacity to battle the scourge of HIV/AIDS received a boost yesterday with the conclusion of an agreement between the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and CARICOM for the provision of a US$680,000 grant from the Japanese Government.

Secretary General of CARICOM (Caribbean Community), Mr. Edwin Carrington and IDB Representative here, Mr. Sergio Varas Olea signed the agreement at the IDB offices in Georgetown on behalf of CARICOM and the IDB, respectively.

The funds will be used to improve the response of the region’s education sector to the HIV/AIDS epidemic as a partner in the multi-sector strategy of prevention and mitigation in the Caribbean, officials said.

The programme was designed through collaboration between CARICOM and the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in coordination with other UN agencies.

To achieve this objective, the IDB said the programme will develop and support the implementation of effective intervention models for use by the education sector to reach in and out of school youths, as well as the dissemination of results and leveraging of other available funding outside of the project.

The overarching Millennium Development Goals (MDG) to which the programme seeks to contribute is the reduction of HIV incidence in the 15-24 age group in the region, the bank said.

The project will help address the capacity issue in relation to the education sector, which has the potential to become a critical player in the area of HIV/AIDS prevention, the IDB observed, adding that it will provide some practical and concrete models for use by education sectors in reducing HIV transmission rates among young people.

These models will be piloted in four selected countries (Jamaica, Belize, Suriname and Guyana) and the experience gained will be used to develop education sector responses to the HIV/AIDS epidemic throughout the region.

Mr. Carrington thanked the IDB for facilitating the grant and said that according to UNAIDS and the World Health Organisation (WHO) 40 million people worldwide were infected with the HIV virus by the end of 2001.

“That figure, I gather, has increased significantly since then. Moreover, the majority of new infections are among young persons, with young women being particularly vulnerable. About one-third of those currently living with HIV/AIDS are aged 15-24,” Carrington noted.

He added: “Our Caribbean region has not been spared. The Caribbean is the second most affected region in the world behind sub-Saharan Africa, with an adult HIV prevalence rate of 2.2%. At the end of 2001, 60,000 persons were newly infected with the HIV virus, 30,000 persons died from the disease, including 5,000 children.”

“This is a litany of woes and disaster for our countries,” he declared.

He pointed out that in several countries HIV/AIDS has become the leading cause of death, while the economic impact is devastating. A recent study by the Caribbean Epidemiology Centre (CAREC) and the University of West Indies (UWI) Health Economic Unit estimates that by 2005, 4% and 6.4% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Trinidad & Tobago and Jamaica could be lost because of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, he said.

However, the Secretary General observed that Caribbean governments “have not been sleeping” having grasped the seriousness of the impact of HIV/AIDS on the sustainable human development of Caribbean peoples and addressing the problem.

In this regard he said a Caribbean task force on HIV/AIDS was formed in 1998 which led to the development of the Regional Strategic Plan (RSP) for HIV/AIDS in 2000 and a Pan Caribbean Partnership (PANCAP) was formulated in 2001.

Other initiatives include the Nassau Declaration on Health in July 2001 proclaiming `The Health of the region is the Wealth of the Region’, the participation of CARICOM Heads of Government at the United Nations General Assembly Special session on HIV/AIDS (UNGASS) and the revision of the RSP to a Regional Strategic Framework (RSF) in 2002.

The overall intention of the RSF is to provide a basis for reducing the spread and impact of HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean, Carrington explained, adding that the RSF identifies areas of priority action at the regional level, which are focused on promoting a strengthened, effective and coordinated regional response to the epidemic, and supporting expanded multi-sectoral HIV/AIDS programmes at the national level.

He noted that the IDB grant “fills a small but essential gap in the PANCAP strategy framework” and allows the PANCAP network to incorporate into the programme appropriate intervention models for use in the education process.

“Given the high rate of infection and death from HIV/AIDS among the youth this project could not be more relevant and timely,” he said.

Mr. Sergio Olea, while endorsing Carrington’s comments, said the focus is on the education sector because it is felt the programme would be more effective through that area.