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Monday, July 24, 2006 

Caribbean Civil Society participation weak at

Only a disappointing three civil society representatives from the Caribbean attended the UNGASS+5 meeting in June in New York.

Programme Co-ordinator of the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA), Merle Mendonca was among the three that attended and her participation at UNGASS was made possible by former GHRA executives living in New York. She said her organisation knew of the concerns of the civil society group for the UNGASS and had, along with Guyana's National AIDS Committee (NAC), lobbied the government in the run up to the UNAGSS.

All of civil society's concerns were not addressed when the political declaration by the governments were released but Mendonca said despite the weaknesses in the document with respect to timelines and giving a clearer definition of vulnerable people, it is still a strong lobbying tool for civil society. The GHRA will strongly encourage the NAC for the wide circulation of the Declaration of Commitments (DoC) and ensure that all organisations use it as a measuring tool and ensure that its principles are included in national documents such as the national strategic plan.

Head of Guyana's Association of Persons Living with HIV/AIDS (G+) who attended the UNGASS+5, Nadia Wilson* said after the meeting she has concluded that while Guyana has done a lot there is still so much more to be done if the country is to effectively fight HIV/AIDS.

Her major concern is the fact that while there is funding for the fight, in many cases the funding does not include provision of food for infected persons. She pointed out that it makes no sense for persons to be given treatment when their diets are deficient. She explained that for the treatment to achieve the required results they need a healthy and balanced diet.

But despite the shortcomings, Wilson said after listening to presentations from around the world, she thinks Guyanese still have "…a lot to thank God for." She said there is need for everyone to understand that HIV is everybody's business and persons should come out and get tested and if they are positive then join the treatment programme that is free.

Country reports, she said, made her aware that politics has really been a major setback for the fight against the virus. She agrees with Mendonca that there is need for the political declaration to be widely discussed locally and its commitments taken seriously.

Indigenous people missing

Both women had high praises for the presentation made by Prime Minister of St Kitts & Nevis, Denzil Douglas who is also the Chairman of the Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV/AIDS (PANCAP) adding that they support his 2010 commitments.

Mendonca said his presentation was useful, but coming from Guyana she felt that he should have included indigenous people in his list of vulnerable people. In his presentation Douglas noted that the Caribbean is a complex mosaic of 29 countries with a prevalence of HIV second only to Sun-Saharan Africa, adding that there is a great deal of concern in the region over the overall expansion and feminisation of the epidemic.

"A total of 300,000 persons are currently living with HIV in the region including 30,000 people who became infected in 2005. The prevalence rate in women 15-24 years is two to six times higher than men of similar group," the Prime Minister said.

Douglas, on behalf of his Caribbean counterparts, gave a number of commitments which would be achieved by 2010 when the next UNGASS is scheduled. These include health and social systems forming a basis for an improved integrated network of services for prevention, diagnosis, treatment, care and support and that every country would introduce legislation and a policy framework to protect the vulnerable populations. Further, the Prime Minister committed that by 2010 every Caribbean woman, man and child would have access to relevant information, knowledge and support services by which to take preventative action.

"By 2010, the Caribbean would have drastically reduced the spread of this disease through universal access," Douglas said.

The G+ representative to UNGASS said after hearing the Prime Minister's address, as an HIV infected person, she felt that there was still hope for people like her in the Caribbean once the work was done towards achieving the commitments.

But there is a great deal to be done to achieve the commitments set. Mendonca explained that work needs to be done in coordination, monitoring and evaluation of the HIV response to ensure accountability, transparency and inclusiveness by all major players. She pointed out that a number of governments do not seem to include civil society at all levels resulting in the country having weak and ill-informed national strategic plans.

Turning to Guyana's new national strategic plan set to be released soon, Mendonca said the draft she saw two months ago was very weak in terms of the UNAIDS 3 1s (One strategic framework, one monitoring and evaluation mechanism, and one national authority).

* Not her real name

The article above is part of a five-country series on the Caribbean's HIV/AIDS response since individual governments signed the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS Declaration of Commitment in 2001.

It is now five years since those promises were made and time to assess the progress made. This is a collaborative effort between Panos Caribbean and Stabroek News.

© Stabroek News

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