Although the world has changed fundamentally since the historic commitments to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and to HIV/AIDS, the recent global economic crisis has resulted in a significant decrease in donor spending for HIV/AIDS, especially for low- and middle-income countries.
This disclosure was made by Head of Human and Social Development at Caricom, Ms Myrna Bernard, at yesterday’s opening of the Sixteenth Meeting of the Executive Board of the Pan-Caribbean Partnership against HIV/AIDS (PANCAP) at the Caricom Secretariat, Turkeyen.
She recounted that the 2009 UNAIDS Report cited the negative impact of the crisis on AIDS programmes and noted that the percentage of countries where anti-retroviral treatment programmes were adversely affected by reduced external funding rose from 11 to 21 percent from July 2008 to July 2009.
Of specific interest is the fact that prevention programmes were identified as the most likely to be worst affected in all countries receiving external funding, Bernard added. “This point must be of specific concern to the Region since control of the epidemic is contingent on reducing the number of new infections which in turn requires aggressive development and implementation of prevention campaigns targeting those deemed to be more at risk.”
According to Bernard, the Caribbean has witnessed firsthand the devastating effects which the HIV/AIDS epidemic has had on all aspects of its development, both nationally and regionally. These effects, she said, have been felt on the individual, family and community levels, most obvious in the loss of human capital due to death and illness, but also in the early stage of the epidemic, which is characterised by the trauma of hopelessness and compounded by stigma and discrimination.
Bernard revealed that PANCAP entered the arena just over 10 years ago as a partnership mandated by the heads of Government of Caricom to mobilise resources and to coordinate the regional response to HIV. Few, she said, had imagined the size of the PANCAP footprint one decade later and the international acclaim which the partnership has now received.
Bernard emphasised that PANCAP has been an outstanding example of what can be achieved through functional cooperation among partners at all levels. In certain spheres, she noted, PANCAP has taken the advantage of the psychological moment presented by recent celebrations of 10th anniversaries, for example those of PANCAP (February 2001, the Nassau Declaration (July 2001), the elaboration of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2010 and the establishment of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
“We have taken the opportunity to reflect and evaluate the impact of our cooperation over the past 10 years and to use the lessons learnt to forge new directions as we seek to address not only the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but by extension, the development of our Region in all its facets.”
She reflected on Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s address during the 10th Annual General Meeting of PANCAP in October last year, which focused on the importance of partnerships and Human Rights and the Global, Regional and National response to HIV/AIDS.
According to Bernard, Annan had sought to reiterate the importance of linking the response to HIV/AIDS as an integral element of the achievement of the MDGs, and noted that it creates explicit linkages between services to prevent and treat HIV with other economic and social policies that are crucial to the realisation of the goals, thus increasing the impact of investment.
PANCAP, Bernard noted, has recorded significant achievements since its inception and these have been well documented.
“There is no doubt that these achievements and others have contributed significantly to the gains that have been made in the Region’s response to HIV/AIDS.”
According to Bernard, in some countries of the Region there has been stabilisation of the epidemic, while in others there has been some reduction of the prevalence of infections. However, she pointed out that in most countries there have been significant gains in the provision of treatment, especially with antiretrovirals, to close to 50 percent of those in need.
This accomplishment, Bernard asserted, is well above the global average of 30 percent. “…Were it not for a change in the WHO criteria, initiating treatment towards the end of 2010, the Caribbean would have been providing close to 60 percent of those in needs with ARV therapy.”
Chairman of PANCAP, Minister of Health Dr Leslie Ramsammy who delivered the feature address noted that, “we, the PANCAP family, must vigorously promote a trajectory of elimination of HIV as a public health threat in the Pan-Caribbean Region and, by our example, around the world.
We must work towards a trajectory of long, healthy and productive lives for our citizens.”
As a result, he asserted that “we must reject, therefore, the notion that the most realistic and attainable goal is to pursue only a trajectory of reduction.”
According to Minister Ramsammy, accepting simply to pursue a trajectory of reduction would mean too many premature deaths, thus PANCAP must reject the notion that the trajectory of reduction is good enough. Merely reducing the impact of HIV, he stated, would still mean too many dreams, hopes and aspirations are shattered.
Dr Ramsammy asserted that the trajectory of elimination has now become the global goal, and defined by UNAIDS as “Zero new HIV Infections”, “Zero Discrimination” and “Zero AIDS-related Deaths”.
“We know this trajectory is possible, but we must first ensure that the goals of Universal Access to Prevention, Treatment and Care by 2015 are attained.”
In this regard, the Health Minister noted that the PANCAP family must concede that whilst much progress has been achieved, there are still “significant challenges to overcome, mighty mountains to climb, in order to accomplish its universal access goals.” As a result, he offered 10 strategic points to be discussed which speaks to the trajectory of elimination.
The meeting which started yesterday is scheduled to continue today and will among other issues discuss the main proposals and outcomes of the 10th Annual General Meeting.
These will include elements of the Conference Resolution 2015 which raises the question of elimination of mother-to-child transmission and travel restrictions of persons living with HIV by 2015; increasing by 80 percent access to care and treatment; decreasing by 50 percent the number of new infections and accelerating the human rights agenda.
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