Guyana could be on top of AIDS fight in ten years

– Ramsammy says as new PEPFAR partnership launched

Health Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy says Guyana should be on the road to eliminating the AIDS epidemic as a major public health problem in another ten years provided the right strategies are pursued and an increased focus is placed on prevention programmes.

Ramsammy reiterated the challenges facing this country in the fight against HIV during an address to stakeholders yesterday at the launching of a new partnership framework between the US government President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) programme and the Government of Guyana. The framework provides a five-year joint strategic plan for cooperation between the US administration and Guyana and ends in 2015.

The PEPFAR programme, which was launched in 2003 initially focused on scaling up prevention, care and treatment programmes, but it will take new directions for this phase and will focus on transitioning from an emergency response to promoting sustainable country programmes.

US Embassy Charge d’Affaires, Karen Williams noted during her brief remarks that the next phase of PEPFAR represents an opportunity for the US government to support shared responsibility with partner countries. Williams expressed hope that the consultations which were held yesterday would be successful and she noted that her government is keen on strengthening the partnership with Guyana.

Ramsammy called the consultations on the PEPFAR programme timely saying he expected the discussions to be intense. He said the strategies which are identified at the end of the process are likely to impact on Guyana’s new national HIV/AIDS strategy that is expected in 2012. He said the new national strategy; ‘Guyana HIV Vision 2020’ would be revamped to last beyond the typical five years and would cover 2012-2020.

He continued that the new strategy envisages a country where people do not suffer stigma and discrimination or face criminalization because of their HIV status, sexual orientation, religion and or gender. Ramsammy said stakeholders in this country must not even think in terms of Uganda and seek to consider legislation that is repressive in the AIDS fight, as was the case in the African nation.

The HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Bill, which was drafted in Uganda a short while ago, was widely criticized for provisions that are contrary to the goal of universal access to HIV prevention, care, and treatment among other things.

According to Ramsammy, the goal of the next decade is early attainment of universal access, prevention, treatment and care. He said the tragedy of infant infections must be brought to an end and charged that new strategies in this country must include as a primary goal, the virtual elimination of mother-to-child transmission by 2020. He underscored that all pregnant women should have access to voluntary HIV testing, adding that more than 90 per cent of HIV pregnant women currently receive anti-retroviral prophylactic  treatment.

The new national strategy must integrate prevention of HIV transmission to young women and also seek to stop mother-to-child transmission within the pursuit of Millennium Development Goals, which deal with maternal and child health, the minister said.

He noted that power differentials in intimate relationships and sexual violence are placing the burden of the epidemic on the shoulders of women and girls, adding that the strategy must also effectively address the issue of vulnerability of women and young girls.

The health minister declared that prevention strategies need to be more robust and he also called for consistency in the investment in HIV prevention. Ramsammy said he is hoping that by 2020 new HIV transmissions should be reduced to less than 10 per 100,000 persons here. “This is an ambitious goal but let’s work for it,” he said. Reducing new infections is not enough, he stated, and contended that the country must pursue a new trajectory of the elimination of new infections.

He said that too many short-term strategies are in place and called for more long-term programmes to be implemented. “We’ve had too many one-shot deals….” he said. He emphasized that while everyone is not at equal risk, “everyone is at risk” and according to him, the health sector needs to address the risk that every person in the country faces.

He also mentioned HIV awareness and education saying that this must be an integral part of the family health programme. Ramsammy stressed the need for ongoing programmes aimed at behavioural change programmes, noting that Guyana has to produce a generation of informed and empowered young people who are going to make educated choices to “wait longer before their sexual debut”.

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