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Representatives of the island’s legislature and civil society, in addition to students from some 25 schools across the corporate area and St. Catherine, participated in a mock ceremonial opening of Parliament today (March 13) as Jamaica observed Commonwealth Day 2006.
The exercise featured presentations by members of the island’s legislature under the theme: ‘Health and Vitality: the Commonwealth Challenge.’
The theme reflects the commitment of Commonwealth countries to achieve the internationally agreed targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which include halving extreme poverty; halting the spread of HIV/AIDS; reducing child mortality and improving maternal health; empowering women; ensuring environmental sustainability; and providing universal primary education by 2015. The MDGs have been agreed to by all the world’s countries and leading development institutions.
House Speaker, Michael Peart, in his remarks, said that the day was a special one and encouraged the young parliamentarians to see the observance as more than a symbolic exercise.
He also urged them to familiarize themselves with the MDGs, stating that there was need for greater understanding of the democratic process and the roles of parliamentarians in general.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister P. J. Patterson, in his Commonwealth Day message, which was read by President of the Senate, Syringa Marshall-Burnett, said it was significant that health was given priority in the identified MDGs to be achieved by 2015.
He noted that one major challenge was that two thirds of the 40 million persons living with HIV/AIDS were Commonwealth citizens, with nine of the most heavily infected countries being in the Commonwealth.
In addition, seven Commonwealth states were among the countries in the world with the highest maternal mortality rate. He said however, that the Commonwealth was to be lauded for its efforts to address health-related issues and reaffirmed Jamaica’s continued commitment to Commonwealth values and principles.
Member of Parliament for North West St. Andrew, Derrick Smith, who represented Opposition Leader, Bruce Golding, at the function, said that in order to have full cooperation, society must be appraised of the MDGs and what was being done to achieve them. He suggested further, that government provide regular progress reports to keep the parliament and the public abreast of Jamaica’s progress in achieving the goals.
Meanwhile, Dr. Pauline Weir of the Public Health Department, called on students to play their part in minimizing the social stigma and discrimination surrounding persons living with HIV/AIDS. Dr. Weir said these must be stopped as they assisted in driving the epidemic further underground.
Her Majesty the Queen, in her Commonwealth message, expressed pleasure that the governments of the Commonwealth have been playing their part in tackling disease and improving health.
Fifty-three member nations celebrate Commonwealth Day on Monday, 13th March 2006, symbolizing shared beliefs in freedom, democracy and development, and in supporting the poorer, the weaker, and the smaller.
The day is celebrated across the Commonwealth with speeches, receptions, prayers and other events, many of which are based on this year’s theme.