Minister of State in the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Hon. Alando Terrelonge, says he will be proposing greater funding for the training of stakeholders that provide support for vulnerable groups, such as persons living with HIV/AIDS and victims of abuse.
“I am going to recommend increased funding to train counsellors, peer educators, more social workers and psychiatrists, psychologists and others. Jamaica has a very short supply of persons with the requisite psychological training that would help with the healing process,” he said.
The State Minister was addressing a public forum and research dissemination seminar on HIV/AIDS and Access to Justice, held at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel on Thursday (November 26).
Mr. Terrelonge lamented that with the mental damage that victims suffer, in order for them to “feel whole again” requires another level of intervention at the social-psychological level.
“It is a lot of psychological trauma [and] a lot of psychological help that persons also need, so when we look at [for example] the Victim Support Unit [there is need for] more funding to assist with victim support,” he said.
The State Minister further pointed to the need to deal with negative stereotypes being perpetuated in the society, which he said requires a “resocialisation of sorts”, where persons are educated about stigma and having respect for others, “because… the hallmark of discrimination is intolerance, it’s a lack of respect for others and, certainly, that would need a cultural shift”.
“When we speak about breaking negative stereotypes, or unlearning negative stereotypes and the sort of resocialisation and education, we must have at the community level more counsellors and more social workers who can go into the communities… to deal with that resocialisation,” he added.
In her remarks, Minister of State in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn, emphasised that “discrimination is definitely one of the things that we must overcome in this country”, especially as it relates to persons living with HIV/AIDS accessing care and feeling comfortable accessing care.
“It goes back to… resocialising, changing the attitude towards HIV/AIDS, and the Ministry can only do so much. We do have a section where you can lodge complaints if you feel that you have been discriminated against. However, I feel much education is needed… in the Jamaican space and I think one of the ways we can tackle this is to educate people about HIV/AIDS,” she said.
She noted that the Ministry of Health and Wellness has done its part to put the systems in place to enable persons to access care.
“[At] the Ministry of Health, we definitely preach to not discriminate… to make sure that persons living with HIV/AIDS are accessing care, that they are coming to care, and that we are trying to find everyone out there who is HIV positive to make sure that they come in,” she said.
She said that various non-governmental organisations (NGOs), such as Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL), have been working with the Ministry to ensure persons seeking to access care are not stigmatised, pointing out that during the initial outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19), the JASL worked with other organisations to see to it that persons who were afraid or fearful to access care got their medication.
Mr. Terrelonge and Mrs. Cuthbert-Flynn were participating in one of two panel discussions held during the event. The discussions centred around the legislative and policy framework that exist to address stigma and discrimination faced by people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS.
The forum, which was staged by the JASL, with funding from the European Union (EU), examined how stigma and discrimination among the wider public in law and institutional settings infringe on the rights of people living with HIV and other vulnerable groups. It also looked at the role of government and other key stakeholders in protecting the rights of key groups and ensuring access to justice.
Findings of research conducted on ‘HIV and Access to Justice: Situational Analysis of Access to Justice for People Living with and affected by HIV and AIDS’, were also presented during the event.
The seminar brought together policymakers, and other key decision-makers and members of the key population, including those living with and affected by HIV.