Prevention, care, treatment critical
- as regional HIV statistics escalates
Stabroek News
November 19, 2006

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Caricom Deputy Secretary-General Ambassador Lolita Applewhaite said the Caribbean cannot afford to ignore the fact that AIDS claimed about 27,000 lives in 2005 and is the leading cause of death among adults aged 15-44 years.

A press release said Applewhaite made this address to an audience including Barbados Minister of Health and Chair of the Council for Human and Social Development Dr Jerome Walcott at the Sixth Annual General Meeting of the Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV/AIDS (PANCAP) held in Tortola, British Virgin Islands last Thursday.

In a presentation titled 'Defining the PANCAP Strategic Agenda: Planning for the Future' Applewhaite said the region should be concerned that the number of HIV infected persons in the Caribbean is larger than the entire population of Barbados and the number of new HIV cases diagnosed last year bordered on the entire population of St Maarten.

She said the first order of business should be to increase universal access to HIV-related prevention, care, treatment and support services. "Such efforts should embrace the principles of equity, accessibility and affordability. In other words our dragnet… must capture all persons in need - in every geographical locality, from every social stratum, from every diversity in our midst," the ambassador said, while acknowledging that these lofty goals can never be achieved unless steps are taken to "tackle the pervasive and debilitating phenomenon of stigma and discrimination…."

Applewhaite pointed out that any measures that are adopted "must speak squarely to the region's political directorate and key policy makes on the outstanding legal issues to be addressed…."

She said ethics professionals must set the standards and practices that are demanded of them; they must challenge business and labour on inappropriate employment practices and shake civil society and communities out of their indifference and hostility to people living with HIV/AIDS. She urged the group to let their decisions be anchored on empirical data rather than by anecdotal information and to keep this in mind when defining the strategic agenda for the future.

At the same time, Walcott, in his address, said implementation rates of projects must be improved so as to increase the confidence of the region's development partners. He said the region had pledged universal access to care treatment and support by 2010 and, as it pooled resources in the 1980s to combat polio and small pox, it can do the same to tackle this scourge.

Walcott said a comprehensive and integrated approach must be taken in targeting HIV. He said the health, education and other social systems need to be strengthened; human resource capacity increased and technical and financial sources mobilised to allow greater emphasis to be placed on prevention. In keeping with this Walcott said we must work to make partnership function with the utmost effectiveness. He called on international partners to align programmes and to simplify funding requirements so that by 2010 the region's health and social systems will become an integrated network offering various support services.