…as talks to reduce HIV funding surface
There has been persistence in the number of young people that are newly infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). This is according to Minister of Health, Dr Leslie Ramsammy, who revealed during a recent press conference that the age group of 15 to 19 is an area for concern to the Ministry of Health.
“I know that while international groups are trying to get us to pay even more attention to the most at-risk groups…For me the most at-risk group is the adolescent age group.”
As a result, the Minister said that in the New Year, the Ministry of Health will have to accelerate its prevention efforts as it relates to adolescents.
This, he stated, is likely to see a combination strategy being embraced. According to him, in the early years there has been great advocacy in the international community for Guyana to endorse the abstinence strategy, even as he noted that Guyana has always believed that the abstinence strategy is important. In this regard there has been an ABC Strategy designed. Dr. Ramsammy stressed that abstinence must continue to be a strong strategy line of action. He however noted that it is quite obvious that the strategic direction where abstinence is the only line of action is a flawed approach.
“With the young people we must recognise that while we continue to encourage them to abstain, we have been doing so not for the last year, not for the last 10 or 20 years but for decades, and in spite of our encouragement and our advice, and in some cases instruction for them not to be engage in sex, a significant number of them are sexually active. That is why we have adolescents who test positive for HIV.”
“If you test a 15-year-old positive for HIV you can be certain that that young man or young woman has been having sex for some time before, and we need to recognise that.”
In recognition of the fact that abstinence is an approach that has not been adopted by some young people, efforts must be made to address this situation, said the Minister.
“We cannot keep talking about improving our communication with these young people, even though we must do that, we must also adopt other strategic lines of action to address this.”
He reminded that young people in the past have been sexually active, as those of present day, a situation which will continue in the future.
Additionally, he noted that, “I hope this is not new to people. Too many of our countrymen and people abroad continue to take that statement as news. We need to stop deluding ourselves and recognise that it is happening. This is not something I advise, it is not something I like but it is happening.” For this reason, Minister Ramsammy insisted that efforts must be made to encourage young people to know their bodies, to know how to keep themselves safe and to practice safe behaviour.
Although Guyana has been gaining much success in its fight against HIV, the Minister revealed that in the midst of success there are threats that are around that could easily reverse the gains. As a result, he noted that the Ministry of Health will be working in close collaboration with Non-Governmental Organisations and its partners to ensure that the fight is fought effectively.
Among the global threats to the fight against HIV, he disclosed that there are ongoing discussions to reduce the amount of money that is available to help combat the disease. He opined that such a move would be a terrible mistake.
“It would be a retreat that would be made at the peril of the world. It is not just a Guyana situation, but the gains we have made have demonstrated that the mobilisation of resources in the first decade of the 21st Century have had a major impact on reducing the incidence of HIV across the world, have reduced the number of children born with HIV, and created a reduction in the number of AIDS-related deaths.”
He emphasised that the
second decade must now be dedicated to the elimination of HIV as a public health scourge, since cutting funds would be a foolhardy retreat and a disgrace to all those who globally talk about the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the eradication of poverty.
Dr Ramsammy opined that one of the great impact investments that have been made in the fight against poverty was investing in the fight against HIV.
“I recognise the difficulties of the financial crash; I recognise that we have the emerging crisis and the emergency of the non-communicable diseases and I recognise the crisis of climate change. These must all be taken into consideration but we must not retreat on the crisis of HIV/AIDS in order to address those emergencies which we must also address.”
Any retreat at this time, according to the Minister, is a declaration that HIV/AIDS is no longer an emergency.
“I am not aware that we have any evidence that the emergency has ended so the temptation of those who want to talk about reducing the investment on HIV/AIDS is a temptation that is based on conclusions that are extremely flawed. My appeal to all these global entities and individuals is that the fight must continue, not only at the pace we have been going, but at an even accelerated and elevated pace.”
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