While the US will continue to support Guyana in wiping out HIV and AIDS, this will be gradually scaled back as local mechanisms are strengthened and the role of the US will eventually evolve to one of technical assistance.
In an exclusive interview with the Stabroek News on Monday last week, US Ambassador to Guyana D Brent Hardt noted that the country has seen a reduction in the incidence of HIV as a result of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) initiative.
PEPFAR was born in 2003 out of a stated commitment by former US President George W Bush to contain HIV which was rampant in Africa and the Caribbean at the time. The US Congress then approved US$15 billion to be used to tackle HIV and tuberculosis in these most afflicted nations. Initially, the programme was to last for five years. However, it was reauthorised for US$48 billion by the Obama administration in 2008 to cover 2009-2013. PEPFAR is historic in that it is the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease internationally.
“It has been a decade since we have been involved in PEPFAR and … like all aid programmes, the goal is not to be in the programme forever. You want to put a programme in place to achieve a result and get out. And that means you have been successful,” the ambassador said.
“According to the latest government figures we have seen, we have reduced the incidence of AIDS to 1.1 per cent, or about 6,200 cases,” he said.
“Through the PEPFAR programme we have provided treatment and care to all those affected by AIDS.”
He also highlighted the success seen in reducing mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
Hardt said too that the US has helped to put infrastructure in place in some instances to ensure that gains made in programmes were not lost. “We have supported the construction of a medical warehouse. And it’s more than a warehouse… It is a whole way of tracking medicines. Everything is barcoded and very modern,” he said.
“Also through PEPFAR we have the only accredited reference lab in the Caribbean and that gives Guyana much greater potential to track the disease, assess it and be able to know what kind of treatment to apply to individuals to make sure that they are getting the right amount of medicine,” he said.
He noted that at present there were regular consultations with the Ministry of Health. This is because the programme of direct assistance is being segued into a technical assistance model. “We are heading in that direction and the discussion has been very good,” he said.
“But I do think that it is a success story. It still has challenges on the personnel side,” the ambassador said. He noted that a major challenge was training people and having them take advantage of the capacity building for the benefit of their country, “and not have them immigrate.”
Referring to the Global Fund on HIV/AIDS, to which the US also contributes, Hardt noted that the US was not “getting out of the business but we are scaling back and that’s our goal eventually – to have Guyana up and running managing and continuing to reduce the HIV incidence here.
Meanwhile, the US administration is also assisting Guyana with enhancing its competiveness of the agro industry.
“We have a USAID programme that is working to promote non-traditional agriculture, forestry products, eco-tourism and fisheries. We have transitioned that to the British High Commission through DFID and they have picked up most of that,” he said. He said that the US has supported birding tourism and other similar activities which could provide Amerindian communities with employment.
“As I travel around the Caribbean I see people importing fruits and vegetables from far points in the world…I see them importing pineapples from Hawaii and I am thinking that this is a long way to travel when you have pineapples from Guyana which could be sent to markets throughout the Caribbean,” he said. “This project tried to connect the agricultural potential here to some of the markets in the Caribbean and beyond,” said. “Likewise there is huge potential with tilapia to get that, for example, into the European market. There are a lot of opportunities and our programme was focused on that,” he said.