KINGSTON — Health Minister, Hon. Rudyard Spencer, says the Ministry is exploring the possibility of making amendments to the Public Health Act and relevant regulations to address stigma and discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS.
He said that while the intention is for HIV and AIDS to remain “notifiable diseases”, meaning that cases of infection must be reported to the relevant Government authorities,certain provisions in the laws that could be regarded as discriminatory, would be removed.
The Minister, who was addressing the launch of the fourth annual Regional HIV/AIDS Testing Day on May 27 at the Scotiabank Centre, downtown Kingston, noted that although on the decline, there are still reports of vulnerable persons being discriminated against and being exposed to physical harm and the “time has come for this to end."
“Jamaica must move beyond talk and demonstrate in tangible ways, our commitment to the fundamental human rights of our citizens. We must ensure that the provisions in our laws are not inappropriately applied to the disease and that they are consistent with international human rights obligations,” he stated.
A collaborative effort involving the Ministry of Health; Caribbean Broadcast Media Partnership on HIV and AIDS; Scotia Bank; and PAN Caribbean Partnership against HIV/AIDS (PANCAP), Regional HIV/AIDS Testing Day seeks to heighten public interest in voluntary counselling and testing as an effective mechanism for preventing the spread of HIV.
Minister Spencer said that the day, which will be observed on Friday, June 24, is an important initiative, which will help to significantly increase the number of persons, who get tested for the disease.
Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Portia Simpson-Miller, commended all the partners in the programme, noting that any effort to encourage persons to get tested for HIV and to reduce stigma is welcome.
“I am sure that it will be possible for this campaign to influence the behaviourchange that is necessary in our societies. It is the ideal way to persuade our Caribbean peoples to reject the negative values and cultural practises that encourage risky behaviour,” she said.
“I commend every effort that encourages persons to exercise their free will to be tested for HIV/AIDS,” she added.
This year, through a coordinated media campaign, the goal of Regional HIV/AIDS Testing Day is to have 10,000 persons screened in 20 countries across the region. Select Scotia Bank branches across the region will offer free HIV testing on the designated days. To date, 16,500 Caribbean citizens have been tested through the initiative.
While the main testing day will be on June 24, in some countries, at-risk populations will be facilitated up to Monday, June 27.
By ALECIA SMITH, JIS Reporter