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JIS News

The Caribbean region, including the Dutch, French and Netherland Antilles will present a unified approach for the reduction in the cost of HIV/AIDS treatment to the United Nations, at its General Assembly meeting slated for May/June in New York.
The region will also lobby for a new global approach to the pandemic that will include a reduction in stigmatisation and discrimination against persons living with HIV/AIDS.
This was decided at Wednesday’s (Feb.15) Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV/AIDS (PANCAP) regional consultation convened by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) at the Knutsford Court Hotel. PANCAP is an umbrella body of some 77 organisations whose core focus is: HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care.
At the brief press conference which ensued, CARICOM government officials including Dr. Edward Greene, Assistant Secretary General of CARICOM and chair of PANCAP, told JIS News that the recommendations, which they would be putting forward to the UN, will come directly from the two-day consultation, which started on Monday.
“There is no way to control HIV/AIDS if we continue to operate at the level of prices we operate at today. Countries pay not only the price of the drug itself, but also prices tacked on for profit by the pharmaceutical companies,” said Dr. Luiz Loures, Director Global initiative UNAIDS (Geneva).
He said there were an estimated 500,000 persons living with HIV/AIDS in the region.
Suzette Moses-Burton, National AIDS Programme Co-ordinator, St. Maarten and chair of the Caribbean Coalition of National AIDS Coordinators underscored the need for regional advocacy to lower the prices. “We Dutch countries have access to HIV/AIDS treatment, but the prices are European prices. We would like to see regional advocacy so that we can access drugs at reasonable prices,” said Mrs. Moses-Burton.
Dr. Loures told JIS News that of the US$8.5 billion spent in 2005 on HIV prevention, care and treatment, some US$500 million was available to fight the pandemic in the Caribbean region. He also singled out the Bahamas and Barbados as countries in which the numbers of HIV/AIDS infection were decreasing.
He noted that while the $8.5 billion spent in 2005 represents a noticeable increase from the US$300-million spent in 1996, and that there were case decreases in some countries, there should be no complacency, since the pandemic still outran the approach to prevention and treatment. “The present decreases in HIV/AIDS cases in some countries should be seen as a motivation to proceed with a bold regime to revert the epidemic,” said Dr. Loures.
In addition to the cost of HIV/AIDS medication, stigmatisation and the funding of public education programmes were two other areas that presenters said needed more attention.
Dr. Douglas Slater, Minister of Health for St. Vincent and the Grenadines, stated that it was necessary for government to be able to fund or gain access to funds for necessary HIV/AIDS care and prevention or public education programmes and emphasised the importance of regional collaboration in this regard. “If we cannot deliver to our citizens, we are worst off. We (in the region) have to harmonise policies, programmes and financing so that we are better prepared to face the challenges of HIV,” said Dr. Slater.
According to Dr. Slater who is also chair of the regional Co-ordinating Mechanism for Global Fund Programme of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), about 1 percent or 6,000 of the OECS population was infected with the HIV virus.
For Rachel Charles, representative of Hope Pals in Grenada, an organisation of people living with HIV/AIDS, stigmatisation and discrimination have directly impacted on the number of individuals seeking HIV/AIDS treatment in her country. She therefore recommended that there be individual country approaches and a regional attempt at engineering and instituting legislation that would in effect, lessen the occurrences of stigmatisation and discrimination.
“Stigmatisation and discrimination have prevented people from coming forward for treatment. We need legislation that would provide for environments, which will allow people to seek treatment,” said Ms. Charles. She also mentioned discrimination against children infected with the HIV virus as one of the negatives of the current predominant culture.
Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Caribbean Regional Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (CRN+) echoed the need for regional co-operation on this issue. “We would like to see the political commitment of all governments in the region to enshrine the human rights of people living with HIV/AIDS, since stigma and discrimination are rampant in the region,” she said.
Dr. Greene, who also stressed the importance of regional agreement on this issue, insisted that HIV/AIDS should be seen as a public health issue similar to measles, thus eliminating much of the stigmatisation that hampers treatment and care of persons with the disease.