Caricom Secretary-General Calls HIV/Aids ‘Clear And Present’ Danger
Bahamas Information Services
29th November 2004
BASSETERRE, St.Kitts/Nevis - Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretary-General, His Excellency Edwin Carrington, says the region is locked in a “deadly stranglehold” by the HIV/AIDS epidemic that is likely to annihilate a sizeable portion of its workforce if something “radical” is not done to reverse the trend.
Mr. Carrington said the epidemic has already cost regional economies more than $50 million directly and indirectly, in addition to the large numbers of nationals who have died as a result of complications from the disease.
(The monetary figures were obtained from a survey conducted by the Health Economic Unit).
According to the latest UNAIDS figures, the Caribbean is the second-most affected region in the world, trailing only sub-Sahara Africa. Statistics further show that AIDS has become the leading cause of death among persons aged 15-44.
The UN AIDS report also shows that there have been 53,000 new cases of adults and children infected with the disease in 2004.
“We are entering times of clear and present danger and this is particularly threatening and disturbing, especially now that we in this region are optimistically poised to implement the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME),” said Mr. Carrington.
“HIV/AIDS is a destructive force that can undermine the whole edifice of the CSME. The epidemic of stigma and discrimination fuels human and economic disaster if not checked as a matter of urgency,” he added.
Mr. Carrington said there is an accumulative 500,000 infected persons living with the disease, including the 53,000 persons who acquired the virus in 2004.
He said an estimated 40,000 persons have died from the disease, with more than 20,000 children expected to be left orphaned by the year 2020, as a result of the disease.
The Secretary-General said Persons Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) represent a significant part of the labour force between the ages 15-44, considered the most productive years.
“These trends raise alarm bells for us in the Caribbean,” said Mr. Carrington. “All the indications are that we are locked in a deadly stranglehold by an epidemic that is likely to annihilate a sizeable portion of our workforce if something radical does not happen to reverse the trends”.
Mr. Carrington said HIV/AIDS is a complex, developmental issue that is not confined to any one sector, organization, agency or individual and that no single ministry, organization or agency can successfully combat the disease or the stigma and discrimination attached to it.
He said those countries in the region that have achieved successes in the war on AIDS – The Bahamas is recognized as having one of the greatest success stories in the Americas with regards to treatment and education – have achieved those results because of multi-dimensional approaches to the epidemic that combine the human and financial resources of government, the private sector, the public service, religious organizations and civil society groups.
“Do we truly believe in the multi-dimensional approach or are we so caught up in defending our programmes and positions that we fail to be honest with ourselves and more importantly to those who really matter, people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS?” Mr. Carrington asked.
“We are dealing with real people, humanity, and a condition that is primarily spread by the most intimate of acts. People will deal with this differently and we must be prepared, in keeping with our respective callings and mandates, to offer assistance and more important, to offer leadership as individuals and as organizations.
“We must not be consumed with fighting over turf, status, ideologies and philosophies because while we are so consumed, people are dying, children are suffering, our economies are collapsing,” the Secretary-General added.
Meanwhile, UNAIDS Executive Director, Dr. Peter Piot, said there are signs that stronger prevention efforts in The Bahamas and Barbados since the late 1990s, could be nudging HIV-infection levels lower.
Dr. Piot warned, however, that the lack of good-quality HIV-surveillance data in most Caribbean countries is hampering the ability to design and run potentially effective prevention programmes and will almost certainly undermine efforts to expand access to antiretroviral treatment.
“As the region with the second-highest rate of HIV-prevalence in the world, AIDS is already having a major economic impact in the Caribbean,” said Dr. Piot. “But AIDS is more than just a disease, it’s a threat to human security and development (that is) unique in human history.
Dr. Piot said social, not just technical challenges will need to be addressed if the countries of this region are to bring their epidemics under control.
“The stigma and discrimination drive AIDS underground. The increased vulnerability to HIV can hamper our efforts to reverse its spread. If children with HIV are turned away from school as happened in Guyana last month and if men who have sex with men are killed as happened in Jamaica, then fear rather than fight will reign and whole communities will suffer,” he said.