BASSETERRE, ST. KITTS, APRIL 29TH 2013 (CUOPM) – St. Kitts and Nevis’ Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Dr. Denzil L. Douglas said Monday that the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the XIV AIDS Conference is particularly significant for him and for the Caribbean.
Dr. Douglas in an address to the Catalonia Parliament in Spain described it as a “landmark,” recalling that he had the honour to sign the Agreement with six pharmaceutical companies in Barcelona, triggering a new era of affordable drugs for people in the Caribbean as well as in other regions that followed its example.
“So much so that after 10 years, and with the combination of scientific- biomedical and behavioural – research; passionate advocacy of civil society and creative leadership, we can truly and optimistically pronounce the aspirational goal to achieve an AIDS-free generation,” he told the president of the Spanish Parliament, other elected officials as well as hundreds of delegates including Dr. Luiz Loures, Deputy Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
“We in the Caribbean Community are engaged with our colleagues in Latin America and indeed with partners in Europe and throughout the World to make the end of AIDS a reality. But we can only do so with a concerted effort to ensure that the HIV programmes are adequately funded. We can only do so, in this era of scarce resources only if we embark on a judicious process of shared responsibility, engaging the private sector, placing emphasis on accountability and keeping the commitments to accelerate the response for investments in treatment and prevention. We can do so, by stepping up the demands for the elimination of stigma and discrimination in keeping with the fundamental principle of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that is ‘equality for all’,” said Prime Minister Douglas, believed to be the first Caribbean leader to address the Catalonia Parliament in HIV/AIDS.
The St. Kitts and Nevis leader noted that the 2012 UNAIDS Report, identified the progress that has been made in the Caribbean in the 10 years since the Barcelona AIDS Conference.
“AIDS-related deaths have decreased by some 50%, and more people living with AIDS have access to anti-retroviral drugs. There is greater awareness of the need to increase access to treatment for the most at- risk populations and to make special provision for the poor and vulnerable. In this regard, the Governments of the Caribbean in collaboration with UNAIDS are pursuing an investment strategy for financing of HIV. Such a strategy is essential for identifying priorities, measurable targets and tangible results,” said the Prime Minister.
He pointed out too that the targets are clearly stated in the PANCAP Declaration issued on its 10th Anniversary Annual General Meeting in November 2010.
“Then, the Partnership agreed to the following targets by 2015: the elimination of mother-to-child transmission; increased access to care and treatment by 80%; reduction of new infections by 50%; and acceleration of the agenda to achieve human rights for PLHIV including the elimination of travel restrictions for People living with HIV/AIDS,” said the St. Kitts and Nevis leader, who is also the prime ministerial spokesman of HIV/AIDS and other health issues within the Caribbean Community.
Prime Minister Douglas pointed out that these targets are quite consistent with those in the Political Declaration of the UN High Level Meeting in June 2011.
“Indeed, we in the Caribbean Community entertain the hope of being the first region in the developing world to eliminate mother-to-child transmission by 2015. After all, we did achieve this feat for polio and small pox in the 1980s. We can do it again for HIV,” said Dr. Douglas, adding:
“Yet, there can be slippage. While chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs) have emerged as a priority, it is important to recognize that HIV is both an infectious and an NCD as the infected are living longer. HIV also remains in the top five causes of death for the Caribbean for the age group 20 – 49 years.
“At least 50 new HIV infections take place in the Caribbean per day; At least 33 deaths per day in the region are as a result of HIV; Infection rates although stabilized and decreasing in some countries still show increasing patterns in some for example Trinidad and Tobago, Belize and Barbados; Prevalence rates exceptionally high in selected groups such as men who have sex with men (32%), Transgender sex workers (24%), youth (4%), Prisoners (5%); ARV coverage still at regional average of 48% with only Barbados, Cuba and Guyana achieving universal coverage,” said Prime Minister Douglas.
He said he was pleased to note the results of a breakthrough scientific study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released last week that has shown that one in four persons in Barbados has completely suppressed the HIV virus, supporting the benefits of Antiretroviral Treatment and indeed the growing awareness of treatment as prevent.
“We in the Caribbean are resolved to press forward with universal coverage and for this we are taking very opportunity to make this a reality and seek the support of our colleagues and friends in Barcelona,” said Prime Minister Douglas.
He said as the achievement is celebrated, the opportunity must be taken to check any reversal in the gains made so far achieved, and to plan for the difficult fight that still lies ahead.
“Among the lessons learned from the past 30 years is that success revolves around openness and innovation. On the one hand, sharing information has dispelled irrational fears, encouraged debate and challenged stigma. On the other, the case for treatment as prevention was preceded by a shift from drug approval protocols to task shifting among medical teams and from fixed dose drug combinations to hiring community practitioners to deliver community-based services,” said the St. Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister.
In closing Dr. Douglas thanked civil society that has been integral in the planning of this celebration and that its members form such a vibrant presence in the Parliament.
“This is appropriate. Civil Society is an essential ingredient for sustaining openness and innovation. From the start, the accelerated response was fuelled by the most ambitious AIDS activism. It was the activist pioneers that fought this epidemic from the start. They tackled the structural forces of prejudice, social exclusion and economic injustice. Today let us draw on that energy of activism to rekindle the values that inspire global development. The World Bank President, Dr. Jim Kim, aptly illustrates the vision in a statement during the Spring Meetings in Washington, D.C. last week (April 2013) when he said “real development is grounded in solidarity, courage, and respect for the dignity of all people and the unrelenting demand for justice.” It is heartening to see that the lessons from the AIDS movement are inspiring economic development. Let us unleash the power of these values in our campaign to bring an end to AIDS,” said Prime Minister Douglas.