UN Envoy praises CARICOM response to tackling HIV/AIDSTuesday, July 7, 2009 – 10:45 am
Source: Guyana Chronicle
THE Caribbean Community’s response to tackling the HIV/AIDS epidemic came in for high praise from United Nations Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean region, Sir George Alleyne, during the recently concluded 30th Heads of Government meeting.
Speaking with reporters last Friday at the Liliendaal Conference Centre, where the summit was hosted, Sir George remarked that one of the most significant advancement that countries in the region has made in relation to the disease is the drastic reduction in mother to child transmission.
“What you have seen in the Caribbean are some successes; foremost, there is no transmission from mother to child now in the Caribbean; that has almost disappeared.
“In many countries of the Caribbean the prevalence rate is coming down and there is some evidence that the epidemic is stabilising in some of the countries of the Caribbean,” the UN Envoy observed.
He however hesitated to come out and say plainly that the region is doing well as regards the HIV/AIDS response, explaining, “Whenever you have an epidemic you never say you are doing well, you say you are doing all right and you could do better”.
“But the Caribbean countries have really put forward quite a remarkable approach in terms of HIV/AIDS,” the Barbadian-born former Director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) said.
He also observed that the region’s latest initiative to involve the business community in the fight against the disease is one which serves as a practical step towards promoting healthy practices among the working sector.
Explaining that CARICOM realised some years ago that the business sector has a major role to play in the work against HIV/AIDS, Sir George noted that this is seen as the Caribbean Business Coalition against AIDS.
Guyana last year launched the Guyanese Business Coalition against AIDS, and to date some five or six Caribbean countries have established what is now known as the Business Coalition against AIDS.
Dr Alleyne further pointed out that the business community recognises the importance of helping to tackle this deadly virus; because if people die from AIDS, the possibility of making a profit diminishes. But more importantly, the message of practicing health lifestyles can be effectively promoted to individuals in the workforce.
The latter, he added, has garnered tremendous success through the installation of work place policies to deal with prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS.
Meanwhile, in relation to the issue of non-communicable diseases, Sir George stated that this is now gaining more traction within the region.
In September of last year, the Caribbean Community held its first Heads of Government summit to look at formulating a region-wide response to this problem, in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.
The UN Envoy pointed out that this was the first time in the world that any grouping of Heads of Government got together to discuss this problem.
He noted that as a result of this, a fifteen point declaration was put out.
Citing some of the things that have happened as a result of this declaration, Sir George stressed that this is contrary to the public perception that Governments do not do anything. “That’s not true”, he said.
He explained that one of the things that was advocated for was the establishment of National Commissions on Non-Communicable Diseases, and these have been formulated in Barbados, Jamaica, Dominica, and Guyana among many others in the region.
“We have said in that Commission that we should encourage countries to raise taxes on tobacco; as a result Barbados has raised the tax by 100 per cent, in Jamaica by fifty-something per cent, so there has been progress in that area,” Sir George said.
A Caribbean Wellness Day was also established last year, for which every Caribbean country rolled out several programmes and activities, he said.
He added that this year he hopes that every one of these countries makes a more concerted effort to get the public more involved in the Caribbean Wellness Day, which will be observed September 12 this year, and which will be observed every second Saturday of that month onwards.
He also stated that he would like to see the Caribbean being more aggressive in terms of exercise, as obesity is still a major problem in the Caribbean, with more and more programmes related to obesity reduction being promoted.
Sir George is a recipient of the Order of the Caribbean Community for his work in the Health Sector. He received the award in 2001.
In July, he was also appointed by CARICOM to serve as head of a new commission to examine health issues confronting the region, including HIV, and their impact on national economies.
At the conclusion of the Heads meeting in Georgetown last Saturday evening, the Leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the Nassau Declaration on Health and Development.
They agreed to support the new approach adopted for the roll out of the priorities of the Regional Health Strategy, Caribbean Cooperation in Health III, urging that speedy implementation of the identified projects and for the donor forum to be convened later this year.
The regional Heads also commended the progress made towards establishing the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), which will be headquartered in Trinidad and Tobago.
Commitment was also given for the support of activities related to the identified six super priorities of the 2007 fifteen point Declaration of Port of Spain on chronic Non–Communicable Diseases.
The Heads endorsed the theme for Caribbean Wellness Day 2009 –‘Love that body’.
The Conference also gave their commitment to robust support for national level celebration of CWD this September.
Among the tenets in the declaration was the commitment of the Heads to give full support for the initiatives and mechanisms aimed at strengthening regional health institutions.
The declaration also calls for immediate pursuance of a legislative agenda for passage of the legal provisions related to the International Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, as well as the development of public education programmes on lifestyle management to be done through the formal education system and support for CARICOM and PAHO.
The Declaration also stated that the public revenue derived from tobacco, alcohol or other such products would be employed for preventing Chronic NCDs, promoting health and supporting the work of the Commissions.
Additionally, the Declaration called for the mandating of the re-introduction of physical education in schools where necessary, providing incentives and resources to effect this policy, and ensuring that the region’s education sectors promote programmes aimed at providing healthy school meals and promoting healthy eating.