Guyana on right track in AIDS fight
-- U.S. envoy By Chamanlall Naipaul
Guyana Chronicle
July 26, 2004

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GUYANA’S fight against the dreaded HIV/AIDS epidemic is impressive and on the right track, top officials of the United States Embassy here said yesterday as Washington pledged a further US$21M in grant support to the campaign in this country.

The grant, over a five-year period 2004-2008, to the Government of Guyana, is part of the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief announced by U.S. President George Bush.

At the signing ceremony yesterday at the Ministry of Finance, U.S. Ambassador Roland Bullen said the response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic by the Government of Guyana was impressive with the implementing of quality programmes and the high priority given to fighting the disease.

“We would like to commend the Government of Guyana for their commitment and dedication to the fight against HIV/AIDS,” Mr Bullen said.

The ambassador also assured his government’s continued support and his commitment in providing leadership and coordination of the many efforts the U.S. Government was undertaking to support Guyana’s response.

“For those of us involved in the fight, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to do so much for so many. I sincerely hope that these activities will make a difference through our combined efforts,” he reiterated.

He noted that as a focus country, Guyana will benefit from additional funding to rapidly expand its HIV response, as the U.S. Government will provide needed support to prevent new infections, treat HIV infected people and care for HIV positive individuals and orphans.

The envoy noted that because of increased costs required for treatment and care and with an emerging generalised epidemic in Guyana, there would be a typically profound effect on the economically productive age groups.

“I recently learnt that in Botswana life expectancy has drastically decreased from sixty seven years to forty seven. This is the stark reality of AIDS,” Bullen emphasised.

“The HIV/AIDS pandemic has killed at least 20 million of the more than 60 million people it has infected thus far, leaving 14 million orphans worldwide. Today, on the continent of Africa, nearly 30 million have the AIDS virus, including three million children under the age of fifteen”, he said.

He added: “This type of epidemic equates to a major negative impact on the social and economic well-being of all countries of the world. In Guyana, it is estimated that approximately 18,000 persons are living with HIV and AIDS.

“These numbers are alarming given Guyana’s small population.”

Health Minister, Dr Leslie Ramsammy recalled that the conclusion of the agreement was the culmination of much work which began in 2001 by officials of the U.S. and Guyana governments.

Much has been achieved since then, he said, adding that Guyana was “well on the road to having a comprehensive response, both in terms of prevention and treatment and care.”

Observing that the grant was part of a larger U.S. agreement to provide assistance in the HIV/AIDS fight, Ramsammy said that technical groups, non-governmental organisations and officials from the two governments would be involved in the execution of the programmes.

“We are excited about the new governance model of enhanced community participation”, as much great emphasis will be placed on community involvement in the implementation of programmes, he said.

He stressed that the aim of the scheme was to ensure that every Guyanese was empowered with the knowledge of how to protect himself/herself against the infection of HIV.

Rapid testing for HIV will become available at HIV/AIDS counselling centres countrywide so that persons wishing to be tested will not have to travel long distances, he said. Facilities and trained personnel will be available at the centres, he explained.

The first batch of HIV rapid mentor-trainers graduated from the University of Guyana last week as part of a new comprehensive HIV Rapid Test System - the first of its kind in the Caribbean.

New rapid HIV diagnostic test kits provide results with 99.6% accuracy in as little as 20 minutes.

Director of the United States Agency for International development (UDAID) in Guyana, Dr Mike Sarhan said that to address the HIV epidemic in Guyana, his agency worked closely with the Government of Guyana and non-governmental stakeholders to design a new project entitled `Guyana HIV/AIDS Reduction and Prevention (GHARP)’. The project seeks to reduce the transmission of HIV and mitigate the impact of AIDS, with a focus on prevention, care and treatment, he said.

He noted further that Guyana will benefit from the U.S. Government’s overall goals to prevent 15,000 new infections, treat 3,500 people and provide care and treatment for 13,200 people with a particular focus on orphans and vulnerable children.

“Preventing the spread of HIV and AIDS and mitigating its impact is not only important to protecting the country’s health. It is also fundamental to achieving economic growth and political stability.

“We are very optimistic that we are on the right track, but it will require a coordinated sustained effort from all to be successful,” Sarhan said.

In a separate development, Guyana’s and the Caribbean’s largest pharmaceutical manufacturer, the New Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation Incorporated (NGPC) and India’s pharmaceutical giant, Cipla, have entered into an historic collaboration agreement.

The agreement allows NGPC dependable and reliable access to a full range of raw materials, bulk formulations, finished products and technical “know how.”

Therapeutic categories of drugs included in the agreement are those for treating HIV/AIDS.