Health Minister identifies 12 points to fight HIV/AIDS

Kaieteur News
May 6, 2007

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If Guyana is to win its battle against HIV/AIDS, its response must be based on 12 crucial imperatives.

These include targeting vulnerable populations, equitable access to treatment, the empowerment of women and girls and the empowerment of Persons Living with HIV/AIDS.

These core areas were identified by Health Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy as key to the victory against the pandemic.

According to him, while much progress has been made in many of these areas, the time has come for an acceleration of the responses.

The Minister underscored this point recently while addressing participants at the first national conference for Persons Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA).

He said that prevention must remain the cornerstone on which the country builds a response as it is the global response to the HIV pandemic.

He acknowledged that this strategy has seen a lull and the time has come for it to be reactivated.

“For a long time we have had a kind of pause and we need to reinvigorate the prevention strategy. Unless prevention is effective, global control of the HIV pandemic would never become a reality.”

He added that treatment of persons living with the disease in an important complementary action in the prevention approach, but pointed out that treatment alone will not bring the pandemic under control.

In this regard he posited that Guyana must fully explore and ensure effective implementation of strategies designed to control sexually transmitted infections, making Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT) more accessible in the public and private sector and improving the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) programme.

Dr Ramsammy stated that targeting vulnerable populations must be a priority, thus addressing the special circumstances of Commercial Sex Workers (CSW's), Men who have sex with Men (MSM), prisoners, itinerant workers such as mining industry employees, the homeless and young girls.

“These categories, I say without an apology, should be a preoccupation of the National AIDS Programme Secretariat (NAPS).”

He stressed, however, that this would mean that Guyana would have to overcome the critical political and legal barriers as well as the profound gender inequities that sometimes act as a deterrent to tackling effectively the challenges faced by the country in targeting the vulnerable populations.

In the local context, he added that it must be ensured that condoms, information and health services are available for vulnerable populations.

Pointing out the importance of empowering PLWHA, Dr Ramsammy called on persons not to see them as a problem but rather as vital members of society and part of the solution.

“The “otherness” approach is bound to bring us trouble. We often speak of normal people and HIV+people. We often speak of the victims. We often speak of “them people”… The fact of the matter is that we are all at risk; we are all victims and we must all take on the fight as a community.

“The persons already infected are our sisters and brothers. They are already infected and affected. The appetite of the virus is insatiable and would not stop unless we work together.

“Those who are already affected must be a part of the fight, not persons to be thrown aside. The fact is that addressing the needs of PLWHA and their families fall squarely on the broader rubric of human rights …

“There is an inextricable link between health and human rights.”

He noted that unfortunately, financing the fight must involve the expansion of international cooperation in order to ensure the financing of the response.

But this must be done in harmony with national programmes.

“Too often we hear our international partners talking about the three ‘ones'. Too often we experience our international partners themselves unable to work within the framework of the three ones.”