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Minister of Industry and Tourism, Aloun Ndombet-Assamba and Opposition Senator Anthony Johnson, yesterday (Sept. 26) signed a declaration of commitment for advocacy and leadership in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Jamaica.
They became the first Parliamentarians to be recruited by the National AIDS Committee (NAC) in a campaign targeting public officials as advocates to help in the fight to reduce stigma and discrimination against persons living with the disease.
Addressing a breakfast forum hosted by the NAC at the Courtleigh Hotel in New Kingston, Minister Assamba noted that she felt compelled to become an advocate because the HIV/AIDS epidemic was one of the most significant challenges facing the nation.
“I, Aloun commit to this process as a mother. I, Aloun, commit to this process as a public official and as the Minister of Industry and Tourism,” she declared.
“You may say that I have more access to the media than some people do. I, therefore have more opportunities than many to incorporate the proper knowledge and understanding about this epidemic in the national dialogue. I will also ensure that wherever I go and whatever I do, I include the knowledge of the impact of this epidemic on Jamaica’s development,” the Minister promised.
She noted that every policy and programme that had ever been put forward for Jamaica’s development assumed that the workforce would be vibrant, resourceful and healthy. She pointed out however, that the HIV/AIDS epidemic had eroded such assumptions.
“One of the reasons why this erosion continues is because of the stigma and discrimination that accompanies the HIV/AIDS disease. The source of this stigma and discrimination is ignorance, and it continues because as a people, we believe that HIV/AIDS is not our problem,” she lamented.
The Tourism Minister said that the prevailing perception was that HIV/AIDS was a problem for commercial sex workers, homosexuals and intravenous drug users and “sinners” in general.
“It is a problem for humans and therefore it is an issue and problem that can only be solved by the full participation of all humans,” she stressed, adding that the commitment of public officials as advocates was one of the ways to become more involved.
She noted that people still listened to politicians and the benefit of the approach would go a long way in helping in the de-stigmatisation of the epidemic, which was a critical step in winning the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Meanwhile, Senator Johnson praised the NAC for its new intervention. “We are dealing with a medical pandemic, which has spread across the world and which threatens the lives of us all,” he said.
Continuing, he added that it was imperative to continue public education about the epidemic and assured the full support of not only the Opposition, but also all persons, who were “prepared to be rational and involve themselves in safe sex”.
The forum, which was held under the theme: ‘The impact of HIV/AIDS on Jamaica, and how advocacy by public officials can make a difference,’ is the first in a series of events organised by the NAC to encourage public officials to take an active role in the fight against the disease by advocating against stigma and discrimination directed at persons living with the disease.
The declaration outlines certain fundamental principles as to the right of persons living with and/or affected by HIV/AIDS as well as a framework for action to be undertaken by political leaders to reduce stigma and discrimination, among others things.