More robust role eyed for PANCAP in HIV/AIDS fight

Health Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy said PANCAP has performed creditably over the past decade as the regional coordinating arm in the response to HIV/AIDS, but he observed there is a need for the unit to play a more robust role if it is to achieve its goals.

The Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV and AIDS (PANCAP) opened the 16th Meeting of its Executive Board in Georgetown yesterday and a number of issues are on the agenda.

Ramsammy, who also sits as Chairman of the PANCAP Executive Board, said yesterday that while much progress has been achieved, there are still significant challenges to overcome.

He gave ten priority areas which he said PANCAP needs to focus on as its work in the region advances.

Ramsammy stressed that the region must pursue a trajectory of elimination with respect to the epidemic and he called on PANCAP to address critical issues. These include seeing a reduction in the sexual transmission of HIV; preventing mothers from dying and babies from becoming infected with HIV; improving access to treatment; and preventing persons living with HIV from dying of tuberculosis.

The minister also drew attention to the promotion of harm reduction and demand reduction; empowering MSM, sex workers and transgender persons to protect themselves and gain universal access to prevention, treatment and care services; removing punitive laws, policies, practices, stigma and discrimination that block effective responses to HIV; meeting the needs of women and girls and preventing sexual and gender-based violence.

In addition, he said that empowering young people to protect themselves from HIV and enhance social protection for people affected by HIV are important in the regional fight.

But he issued a call for greater efficiency, evidenced by, among other things, less duplication of efforts, more targeted, evidenced-based prevention programmes, and greater collaboration and cohesion in the PANCAP partnership since access to funding is drying up.

PANCAP countries in the Caribbean are being unfairly targeted by new eligibility criteria of the Global Fund, Ramsammy said, noting that this is “gradually restricting and eliminating our countries from much needed funds.” He said it is appears the region is being punished for national investment and performance. “Some argue that our health indicators are improving and that our health indicators of our peoples are among the best in the world. This has come about from national commitment and investment. Even as we fight health scourges and threats, we must protect our gains,” Ramsammy said.

According to him, it is an unfair and a colossal mistake to abandon the Pan Caribbean region at this time when it is so important for countries to continue to fight health threats while protecting their gains.

And in mentioning gains, Ramsammy pointed out that Guyana ranks in the top 10 countries of the world in terms of the numbers of persons (253) tested per 1,000 persons in the population. He said too that PANCAP stands as a model for partnership and for a successful collective response against HIV for others to follow.

“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. We must reject, therefore, the notion that the most realistic and attainable goal is to pursue only a trajectory of reduction,” he added.

Myrna Bernard, Officer-in-Charge, Human and Social Development at the Caricom Secretariat, hailed PANCAP as an outstanding example of what can be achieved through functional cooperation among partners. “We have much to be proud of but we also have many rivers to cross,” she observed.

She referred to a UNDP report on country studies in 2009 which pointed to the impact of the decrease in external funding on Caribbean countries, while noting that prevention programmes were the most likely to be affected in all countries. Bernard emphasised that this is cause for specific concern in the region because “control of the epidemic is contingent on reducing the number of new infections….”

Bernard said too that the epidemic has been stabilised in some countries in the region while in others there has been some reduction in the prevalence of infections. However, there have been significant gains in the provision of treatment, especially with ARVs, she added.

Bernard pointed out that prevention programmes are still not reaching the most at-risk populations and that stigma and discrimination remain major obstacles while “many of our organisations of people living with HIV are struggling to survive.”

Former Assistant Secretary-General of Human and Social Development of the Caricom Secretariat Dr Edward Greene, who is an original signatory to the PANCAP Establishing Agreement, was singled out yesterday for his critical contributions over the past decade. PANCAP’s former Executive Director Carl Browne was also recognised.

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