Guyana reaching people living with HIV

-stigma, poverty and violence being ignored, AIDS committee says

The National AIDS Committee (NAC) says that while Guyana has achieved universal access with respect to the provision of reaching people living with HIV/AIDS, the public health aspects of the epidemic including stigma, poverty and violence against women have been ignored.

Public health issues are not attracting the priority they merit in combating the epidemic, NAC said yesterday, citing other aspects such as criminalizing homosexual activity and religious bigotry demonizing persons living with HIV (PLWH).

NAC praised the local and international donor efforts for Guyana’s achievements with respect to universal access at a press conference yesterday, but the group also pointed to the challenges which confront the efforts in sustaining universal access.

In deepening universal access, NAC said, Guyana needs to integrate the current stand-alone HIV programmes into the national health delivery system in a manner which sustains the health infrastructure in areas which have benefited from HIV.

It also advocated family and community support and a reliable supply chain of drugs.

NAC also pointed to prevention strategies and when questioned on this the group’s Chairman Hyacinth Sandiford said a tremendous amount of work is being done as it relates to HIV awareness.

She said prevention strategies appear to be working because the rate of infection has decreased. However, she said the NAC is interested in the hard data “which would substantiate the information being released by the ministry”.

Sandiford said too that NAC is not privy to any reports complied by the Ministry of Health and/or the National AIDS Programme Secretariat (NAPS), adding that it is also not part of the overall national team.

NAC’s Region One representative Patrick Ashley told reporters that access to HIV-related information is easy in his region, but pointed out that the regular presence of counselors is a problem. Ashley said the issue of stigma and discrimination continues to hurt efforts in his region, adding that “people are afraid to come forward”.

Merle Mendonca of the NAC, reading from a prepared statement, said the national response to HIV has been shaped by external funding and technical assistance rather than national policy. She continued that dwindling international funding implies that sustainability of universal access in Guyana will require a major national response.

“Guyana is, therefore, confronted with the challenge of mobilizing national financial resources to sustain universal access in an environment in which disregard for PLWH is manifest in stigma, in calls for criminalizing HIV, in moral rejection…” Mendonca stated.

She added that the failure of international donors to respect local autonomy, especially with respect to civil society, needs to be recognized.

Mendonca said also that there is need for Guyana to create an environment in which PLWH can feel secure in publicly acknowledging their status; in which religious influence promotes respect.

Further, she said local efforts need to recognize the link between women’s health and universal access by integrating women’s sexual and reproductive rights into HIV strategies.

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