KINGSTON — Minister of Health, Hon. Rudyard Spencer, has challenged the country’s leaders to craft policies and develop programmes to end stigma, discrimination and gender inequality in the society.
“Many of our people are marginalised because of a disability, a health condition, including but not limited to HIV/AIDS or their sexual preference. We must remove the impediments of access to social services to encourage participation of our citizens in national dialogue,” Mr. Spencer said at a meeting to discuss stigma, discrimination and gender inequality affecting Jamaica’s HIV/AIDS response, held on Friday (April 29) at the Wyndham Kingston Hotel.
According to the Health Minister, “the achievement of developed country status is at risk if we cannot bring all peoples to the centre of planning and policy making. Leaders from the different spectrum of society must take up the mantle and move progressively forward. It will be a difficult road because Jamaicans have deeply entrenched positions but love can conquer all things."
In his remarks, Director of the National HIV/STI Programme, Dr. Kevin Harvey, said that Jamaica has been a success in HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care. He said that there has been significant improvement in HIV testing, with 250,000 persons screened each year since 2003.
He however pointed to the need for increased financial and other resources to strengthen the human rights aspect of the national HIV response. He said that the HIV budget is $1.3 billion, which is less than four per cent of the $30 billion allocated to the general health system.
“I must emphasise that fighting stigma, discrimination and gender inequality is central to the provision of an enabling environment for responding to HIV/AIDS. In addition, the national response is one way of demonstrating our commitment to and fulfilling the international human rights conventions to which we are a signatory to,” Dr. Harvey said.
The number of reported cases of Jamaicans living with HIV annually have declined by 18 per cent in 2009, compared to 2006. Also, access to treatment and care has been scaled up significantly, with mother-to-child transmission reduced to less than five per cent. The number of persons dying from HIV has also declined by over 40 per cent in the last four years.
The data shows a high prevalence rate of 32 per cent among most-at-risk groups such as men, who have sex with men.
By LATONYA LINTON, JIS Reporter