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Thursday, July 06, 2006 

DFID Caribbean continues work in HIV
and AIDS
Wednesday July 05 2006

by Malcolm McNeil, Senior Health Adviser, DFID

The Caribbean region is still second highest in the world for transmission of HIV and AIDS. In recent report on the epidemic, UNAIDS indicated that there are now an estimated 300,000 adults and children living with HIV in the region.
The total number of cases among adults has reduced slightly, to 1.6 per cent but there are concerns about the increasing feminisation of the epidemic. In Trinidad & Tobago for example, young women in the 15-19 years age group are six times more likely to be infected than young men in the same age group
The same trend is shown in most other countries of the region and National AIDS Programme managers point towards the behaviour of older men, targeting young women for sexual exploitation, in the belief that they will be free of HIV.

Stigma and discrimination, against those living with HIV and those thought to be at risk (and their families) is still one of the most important factors accelerating the spread of the epidemic.
Building on the successful Champions for Change event, held in St. Kitts in November 2004, DFID has continued to support the Pan-Caribbean Partnership Against HIV and AIDS (PANCAP) to increase attention on stigma and discrimination and encourage a change in attitude and practices across the region. Key to this are the leaders of the many churches and faith-based organizations, who do so much good work in the region.

Unfortunately, some leaders of faith-based organisations have tended themselves to stigmatise those living with HIV and AIDS and add to the discrimination. PANCAP recognised this problem and asked for DFID support to hold a “Champions for Change II Conference”, which was held in Georgetown, Guyana in November 2005.
Those attending included leaders from a wide range of churches and other faith-based organisations, along with a number of people living with HIV and AIDS, members of CRN+ (the organisation for people living with AIDS in the region) and a number of officials from PANCAP and DFID.

British High Commissioner to Guyana, Stephen Hiscock, gave a thoughtful and challenging address encouraging leaders of faith-based organizations to get alongside people living with HIV and AIDS, so that they can understand their needs and the impact that stigma and discrimination has on their lives.
Churches and faith-based organisations provide a wide range of help and support to those in need, throughout the Caribbean, and people living with HIV and AIDS need this support more than most. DFID is now planning to work with PANCAP and others to establish a unit to help tackle AIDS-related stigma and discrimination.

The unit will provide support for behaviour change and communication programmes, designed to help each National AIDS Programme.

Another major development in HIV and AIDS has been encouraging greater involvement from businesses and the private sector in the region. Although HIV has a significant effect on businesses in the region, very few private sector companies have started programmes in the workplace to inform workers of the risks and provide support and medical care for those infected.
Working with the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, the National AIDS Commission in Barbados, and the National AIDS Programme in Jamaica, DFID has recently agreed a £2 million three year programme designed to accelerate private sector involvement in HIV and AIDS in the region.
The programme will start with the hotel and tourism sector in both Barbados and Jamaica, and then spread to other countries and other sectors.

PANCAP has also been working hard to encourage greater private sector involvement in HIV and AIDS and established the Caribbean Business Coalition Against HIV and AIDS, launched in early November in Trinidad & Tobago. Sandra Pepera, Head of DFID Caribbean, was on hand at the start of the Business Coalition, to officially launch the DFID-funded private sector project.

Sandra actively encouraged far greater private sector involvement in HIV and AIDS, as has been the case in Europe and parts of Africa, particularly South Africa.
At the event, the UK-funded project was warmly welcomed by Sir George Alleyne, UN Special Ambassador for HIV and AIDS in the Caribbean. Sir George has been calling for far greater involvement by the private sector and was delighted that the new Business Coalition, and the new private sector project, were being launched at the same time.

The new project will also work closely with a US-funded initiative, implemented by the UN International Labour Organisation, to try to help employers develop appropriate policies and practices for dealing with HIV and AIDS in the workplace.

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