Dr. Ferguson Appeals for Continued External Support for HIV/AIDS Programme

Photo: JIS Photographer Minister of Health, Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson (second right), raises a point about an aspect of the National HIV/STI programmme, during discussion with (from left) United Nations (UN) Resident Co-ordinator for Jamaica, Dr. Arun Kashyap; and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Mission Director, Denise Herbol. Ocassion was the opening ceremony for a Caribbean Regional Meeting on Strategic HIV Investment and Sustainable Financing on Wednesday (May 28), at the Jamaica Conference Centre, downtown Kingston.

Minister of Health, Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson, is encouraging Jamaica’s international partners to continue supporting the country’s National HIV/STI programme, until it becomes self-sustainable.

His call comes against the background of reports that international donors are preparing to withdraw or reduce their assistance for AIDS programmes in several Caribbean countries. This is likely to have an impact on Jamaica, whose national HIV programme has been predominantly supported by multilateral funding, some of which have either dried up or will end soon.

Dr. Ferguson, who was speaking at the opening ceremony for the Caribbean Regional Meeting on Strategic HIV Investment and Sustainable Financing on Wednesday, May 29, at the Jamaica Conference Centre, downtown Kingston, pointed out that Jamaica’s reclassification as an upper middle income country by the multilateral agencies, has, to some extent, impacted its sources of external funding.

As such, the Minister informed that he has been advancing Jamaica’s case, in terms of the need for continued external support to sustain its HIV programme. He noted that he has done so at every opportunity, particularly in his meetings with officials from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and the Global Fund.

“In every fora that I have had the opportunity, I speak to the fact that in Jamaica’s case, we are in a situation where our debt to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio is over 140 per cent. We are in a situation where between debt repayments, and our compensation of staff, we are up to somewhere between 75/80 per cent of the budget, and therefore what is left for all our capital projects and other things is somewhere between 20 to 25 per cent,” he said.

Dr. Ferguson said the country’s need for external support is even more critical if it is to continue to fund the National HIV programme, and keep the HIV/AIDS prevalence level at no more than 1.7 per cent of the population. He noted that by 2030, it would cost some $3.3 billion (approximately U$30 million) to finance the programme.

Dr. Ferguson said the country greatly appreciates the support received from the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the latter of which has provided Jamaica with US$2.5 million annually to fund activities targeting persons deemed at risk. This contribution comes to an end in September 2014.

In addition, the country’s US$10 million World Bank loan came to an end on March 31 of this year, after an extension. The Global Fund’s programme of US$40 million will end on July 31.

The Minister contended that while the administration recognises that Jamaica has to take ownership of its programmes, now that external funding is dwindling, there has to be a reasonable transition period.

“We are lucky that in this period, moving from 2013 to 2015, we will enjoy a transitional funding period of an additional US$5 million (US$2.5 million per annum). But with all of that, we recognise that for Jamaica to survive, and the Caribbean to survive, country ownership of this programme must be our target,” he said.

The Minister informed that the Government has been taking the necessary steps to boost its national HIV/AIDS programme, noting that 20 additional persons have been employed in the Ministry of Health dealing specifically with the HIV programme.

“We have worked in terms of the kind of policy framework, which is necessary going forward. We are in the process now of culminating, after Cabinet took the decision, aspects of our HIV programme into our Sexual and Reproductive programme, establishing one authority with our National Family Planning Board,” he informed.

Dr. Ferguson further noted that since 2004, anti-retroviral coverage has increased, resulting in almost 43 per cent of persons living longer with HIV/AIDS. In addition, he pointed out that currently, the mother-to-child transmission rate is five per cent.

“Jamaica stands in a position that by 2015, we will be in that zero category,” he boasted.

He informed that the Government has also moved aggressively to deal with stigma and discrimination through amendments to the Public Health Act, which are being drafted.  Further, all ministries have now established HIV/AIDS policies that are important in dealing with issues of stigma and discrimination.

The meeting, which brought together leaders in health, finance, and development in the region, sought to encourage Caribbean countries to invest strategically in HIV and health in order to improve efficiency and develop sustainable results.

It was hosted by the UNAIDS Caribbean Regional Support Team and the United States (US) President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

The Caribbean has the world’s second highest HIV rates and two thirds of its HIV investment comes from international donors.

Contact: Alecia Smith-Edwards

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