JIS News

As the Ministry of Health steps up its campaign against the spread of HIV/AIDS, Minister John Junor has called on Jamaicans to desist from stigmatising and discriminating against persons living with the disease, as this could drive the true facts about HIV/AIDS underground.
“We have attitudes in our country which need to be addressed. We have to bring people into a realization that they need to respect the rights of human beings of all persuasions,” the Minister said.
Mr. Junor was addressing a ceremony highlighting the achievements of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)/Ministry of Health’s 2001 to 2004 bilateral National HIV/AIDS programme, at the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Kingston, yesterday (September 7). The Minister pointed out that continued discrimination against persons living with HIV/AIDS was preventing many of them from getting tested for HIV, thus resulting in an increasing percentage of people not knowing of their HIV/AIDS status.
“Only 30 per cent of the estimated 22,000 to 25,000 persons are aware of their status, which means that 70 per cent need to confirm their status,” Mr. Junor said.
“We must cope with persons living with HIV/AIDS and those affected by the disease,” he added.
The Minister said that new challenges pertaining to HIV/AIDS were arising every day and the Government would be seeking to follow international guidelines of bodies, such as the International Labour Organization, in order to protect the rights of those persons.
“We are coping and learning how to abide by all the human rights laws and regulations and guidelines to ensure optimum quality of life for all,” he explained.
Mr. Junor noted that even with laws imposed to protect the rights of persons living with HIV/AIDS, it would still be a major challenge to fight against stigma and discrimination associated with the pandemic.
“Discrimination is hard to legislate against. It is a great hurdle and real action in anti-discrimination is in educating people, and this will have to be a constant and long term process,” he explained.
Turning to the legislative Bills that were being considered by government to protect the rights of persons living with HIV/AIDS, Minister Junor pointed out that a Bill of Rights is to be formulated and passed in Parliament. He also pointed to policies, such as the National Policy for HIV/AIDS in the workplace, and in schools, which were currently being used to guide the anti-discrimination campaign.
He further informed that the government had contracted a law firm to review current legislative policies that could be used to protect the rights of persons living with HIV/AIDS.
In the meantime, the Minister noted that the significant drop in the cost of anti-retroviral drugs was aiding the treatment of persons living with HIV/AIDS. He pointed out that at present, the drugs were being sold for $1,000 and were being made available at most HIV/AIDS, STI control centres.
Mr. Junor also reported that there had been an increase in testing for STIs, and a marginal decline in the transmission of HIV/AIDS from mothers to babies.
The USAID and the Ministry of Health have extended their bilateral National HIV/AIDS Programme to 2009.