As the Caribbean joins the international community in observing World AIDS Day, St. Kitts and Nevis' Prime Minister and Chairman of the Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV and AIDS, Hon. Dr. Denzil L. Douglas said the disease has deep and social implications for the region as it is the highest cause of death among the Caribbean's youth between the ages of 15 and 29 as well as the most productive workforce between 15 and 44 years.
"Therefore as we reflect on this 19th World AIDS Day which is being observed to celebrate the progress made in our response to this epidemic and to bring focus to future challenges, we are provided with an opportunity to reaffirm existing commitments and make new ones that are all designed to improve the quality of life of both the infected and affected," said Dr. Douglas in a statement to mark the occasion.
Over the past year, PANCAP - the regional network which brings together stakeholders from across the wider Caribbean, including 15 CARICOM Countries, 6 Associates, the English, Dutch and French Overseas Countries and Territories as well as Cuba and the Dominican Republic - has endeavoured to keep the promise to reduce the spread of this dreaded disease.
"Achievements worthy of mention include the Agreement with Brazil for the supply of ARVs to PLWA in the eight countries within the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS); region-wide consultations to understand and define the roadmap for achieving Universal Access to prevention, care, treatment and support by 2010 and advancing the fight against stigma and discrimination through the Champions for Change process. PANCAP, in collaboration with the UK Department for International Development (DFID), brings on board representatives of the Region's media industries at a third Conference, in the week after World AIDS Day 2006," said Prime Minister Douglas, who is also the current Chairman of CARICOM.~~adz:right~~
Dr. Douglas also highlighted the new strategic directions which include increased emphasis in policy research to assist countries to make decisions on such matters of behavioural change and preventive strategies and 10 years of consolidated advocacy for people living with HIV and AIDS as the Caribbean Regional Network (CRN+) grows from strength to strength.
He pointed out that 25 years into the epidemic, 2006 marks five years of the Declaration of Commitment on AIDS, to which a number of our countries are signatories. The year also marks five years of PANCAP.
Prime Minister Douglas said that PANCAP at five must reflect on how diligent it has been in keeping the promise to halt and reverse the epidemic.
He added that PANCAP must be held accountable for the fact that while statistics indicate reduction in the actual number of deaths from HIV/AIDS in 2005-2006 in the Caribbean, the Region still has the distinction of having the second highest prevalence rate in the world.
"We continue to negotiate for cheaper ARVs and there is evidence that between 10-15 percent of PLWA have access to ARVs, there is room for great improvement in the area of care and treatment and more persons are coming forward to be tested, the number could be higher if we were to reduce stigma and discrimination of PLWA.
~~adz:left~~According to Prime Minister Douglas PANCAP has mobilised over US$42.5 million for regional programmes over the past five years there is still a funding gap if the Caribbean is to ensure a more effective response to HIV/AIDS.
"If only because we are accountable, we must, to say the least, continue to advocate for the multilateral agencies to change their polices which deny middle income countries like The Bahamas, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and many of the small OECS countries from easier access to grants," said Prime Minister Douglas.
He also said PANCAP must continue to advocate for the provision of resources to the overseas countries and territories of the Partnership. "We must accelerate the process of moving towards the harmonization of programmes and donor resources. We must institutionalise governance and accountability structures for the Partnership. We must develop synergies between regional and national programmes and reduce the duplication of roles among core partners," the PANCAP and St. Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister added.
"This year's message is indeed timely. We must be accountable if we are to keep the promise," Prime Minister Douglas concluded his World AIDS Day message.