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MONTEGO BAY — Minister of Tourism, Hon. Edmund Bartlett, has emphasised that the Caribbean and Latin American regions need to work as a unit to educate their people, and help to foster safer sexual practices and healthier social attitudes.

"Ultimately, once this is done, I know that we will win the fight (against HIV/AIDS) and safeguard the lives of our people and the future of our respective countries," the Minister said.

In his message at the opening of the International HIV Management Conference at the Hilton Rose Hall Resort in Montego Bay, on August 21, the Minister observed that the regions have been consistently losing valuable individuals to the scourge of HIV/AIDS, and stressed that the time has come for a more meaningful and unified approach, aimed at addressing the issue.

Read by Executive Director of Jamaica Vacations Limited, Lionel Reid, the Minister's message noted that the six-day conference, themed:  'Harmonising Quality Clinical Care and Laboratory Diagnostics on Behalf of Persons Most at Risk of HIV/AIDS', came at a time when Jamaica, like most other Caribbean countries, was actively involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS as well as providing affordable treatment for those who have the disease.

"The Ministry of Tourism has been partnering with several local and international organisations to cultivate a broader sense of awareness about HIV/AIDS and to encourage behavioural changes among the most vulnerable groups," the Minister said.

"Special focus has been placed on the local tourist industry as the Tourism Sector HIV/AIDS Workshop Policy, which was drafted through collaboration between the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo) and the Ministry of Health in 2007, provides the policy framework to combat the disease and address discrimination within the sector," Mr. Bartlett added.

He explained that the major objectives of the policy include reducing the transmission of the disease within the sector; and managing and mitigating the impact of the disease within the workplace and on the sector in general. He added that the policy also seeks to increase overall knowledge about the disease as well as providing treatment, care and support for workers living with the disease, while reducing the stigma and discrimination linked to it.

"This very important policy has also set standards of acceptable behaviour for all employees as it relates to HIV/AIDS and related issues. Over the years it has informed management and employees alike on where they can get assistance, information on HIV/AIDS and also how to manage the disease in the workplace," he informed.

The Minister said the effect of the policy on the sector has been evident, as up to the end of 2008, HIV/AIDS workplace sensitisation and training efforts and policies had been developed in 180 large private sector companies. Of that number, 136 had adopted the national policy on HIV/AIDS, he added.

Some   275 delegates from 21 countries are participating in the conference, which ends on August 26.

                                                                              

By Glenis Rose, JIS Reporter