‘Don’t become complacent’ in HIV/AIDS fight
PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten, – Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has told the region that there is no room for complacency in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Delivering the feature address at the opening ceremony of the 10th Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV and AIDS (PANCAP) Annual General Meeting here Sunday night, the former UN boss said that 30 years since the start of the terrible epidemic, too many people still get infected and too many die of AIDS-related illness.
“Discrimination, including the flouting of the most basic human rights, is still widespread for those living with HIV/AIDS,” Annan told the opening ceremony, adding “and while we have seen real progress across the board, five more people still contract the virus for every two who start treatment”.
An estimated 240,000 people live today with HIV in the Caribbean, while 20,000 more are infected each year.
However, Caribbean officials say the work of PANCAP and the expansion of retroviral treatment have helped significantly in reducing the annual number of deaths related to HIV, which has fallen 40 per cent since 2000.
Since 2001, the Caribbean region has received approximately US$1.2 billion of grant and concessionary funding to fight HIV/AIDS.
But Annan said that the replenishment meeting for the Global Fund that took place last month served as a reminder that the war chest was not limitless.
“I remain an optimist. But I also recognize that maintaining and increasing funding for HIV/AIDS has not got any easier.
“The global economic crisis has increased pressure on government resources across the world. Some wealthier countries have responded by freezing or reducing their investments in global health.
“It is unfair that those countries which have done least to cause the financial crisis should have to pay such a high price,” Annan added.
But he said that while he believes countries should continue to press strongly for more funding, they must also do more to get the most benefit from each dollar spent.
The former UN Secretary General admits that “it is a daunting challenge”. But he said the region’s success over the last decade shows just what can be achieved with mission, commitment, courage and leadership.
The PANCAP Chairman, St. Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Dr. Denzil Douglas agrees that the challenge is daunting, but he said one of the things the Caribbean is known for is its ability to stand up to challenges.
“Our region is always up to a challenge. It was this region that in the 1980s was the first to eliminate polio and measles,” Douglas said.
“It was our region that created the steel pan, the only musical instrument invented in the 20th Century. It was this region that has dared to create PANCAP.”
Prime Minister Douglas added that after 10 years, PANCAP seems prepared for the challenges of adolescence and adulthood.
“Many of these challenges are imposed by a very unpredictable global system and this is why for us in the Caribbean the strengthening of the PANCAP network is so important,” he said.
Secretary General of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Edwin Carrington, who also spoke at the opening, said that PANCAP has had a tremendous impact on this region which has been among the most afflicted by the HIV phenomenon.
“Imagine the joy and relief of those whose very lives have been saved because of this partnership. It has truly made a difference.” Carrington said.
“This evening’s celebration is a tribute to this partnership, its leadership, the relevance of its programmes, its committed partners including our development partners for this willingness to invest in sustaining this unique organisation.”
One of the highlights of Sunday’s opening ceremony was the inauguration of the PANCAP Award that was presented to six CARICOM nationals for their outstanding contributions over the past 10 years to the region’s response to reverse the spread of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
They are Professor Peter Figueroa form Jamaica; Dr. Perry Gomez of the Bahamas; Dr. Carol Jacobs from Barbados; and Ms. Yolanda Simon from Trinidad and Tobago.
PANCAP Awards of Recognition were given to Assistant Secretary General of CARICOM Professor Edward Greene and Director of PANCAP Carl Browne.