Great strides in HIV/AIDS reduction, but challenges remain – PM Harris at UN

St. Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister, Dr. the Hon. Timothy Harris has acknowledged the great strides the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has made in HIV/AIDS reduction, but pointed out that challenges remained.

CARICOM Member States recognise that confronting the challenges for fast-tracking the response to HIV and AIDS collectively and in global solidarity is our best option for ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030,” said Dr. Harris, who is the Community’s Lead Head with responsibility for Human Resources, Health and HIV/AIDS.

He made the remarks while addressing the United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS at the U.N. Headquarters in New York on 8 June. The meeting ends Friday.

Dr. Harris outlined that between 2006 and 2015, within Member States of CARICOM, the HIV prevalence rate has been halved from 2.2% to 1.1%; the estimated number of people living with HIV receiving anti-retroviral therapy has increased from under 5% to 44%; deaths from AIDS-related causes declined from approximately 20,000 to 8,800; and the aspiration is to be the first region in the World to end mother to child transmission of HIV.

However, he said that the CARICOM “cannot be lured into a state of complacency” because many challenges still confront us.

The Caribbean, for all its successes, is still second to Sub Sahara Africa in its prevalence rate,” Prime Minister Harris said, while highlighting that the vast majority of people living with HIV are concentrated in three Caribbean countries and that in these three countries, prevalence among the key risk groups were men who have sex with men as high as 32 % and that in many countries, data were revealing a spike in prevalence among women and girls, a trend he said must stop.

Prime Minister Harris said that CARICOM Member States were committed to the achievement of the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals to eliminate AIDS by 2030.

We are fortunate for the Global and regional leadership of UNAIDS. It has demonstrated what can be achieved by the coordinated policies to fast-track the response to AIDS, based on clearly articulated scientific information, multi-sectoral strategies, partnerships for global solidarity, and commitments to shared responsibility. We are fortunate too, for the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria without whose investments, many countries like ours in CARICOM would not survive these diseases. We are particularly indebted to the US-led PEPFAR, among other development partners for keeping the faith in the region as a whole as we move forward towards 2030,” he said.

He said that in order for CARICOM Member States to achieve this goal it was important to:

  • place greater emphasis on building capacity to gather and analyse reliable disaggregated data in a timely basis to inform policies;
  • apply the lessons learned from the AIDS movement to strengthen health systems and consolidate an integrated public health response to health emergencies such as Zika, Dengue and Ebola;
  • identify the imperative of ‘health convergence’ and universal health coverage as mechanisms for effectively coordinating approaches and monitoring progress on a range of health and development issues;
  • and place emphasis on access to affordable medicines in fulfilling the right to health, thereby maintaining the momentum of activists in the early 2000s and the call by the Commission on HIV and the Law for using the TRIPS flexibility to achieve this end.

The Prime Minister said that through the initiative of CARICOM Ministers of Heath with the technical assistance of UNAIDS and PAHO, the Caribbean was the first region in the World to negotiate and sign an agreement with six pharmaceutical companies in 2002 in Barcelona.

This reduced the price of drugs by 85-90%. It started a process in collaboration with the Clinton Foundation, leading to a dramatic increase in the number of people on HIV treatment in low and middle income countries with very significant cost savings, estimated at USD 325 Billion to date.  Yes, the Caribbean takes credit for being a catalyst in this venture and is pleased to note that the Secretary-General has appointed a high level panel to look at the challenges of access to medicines. We look forward to the outcome of their work,” Dr. Harris said.

Prime Minister Harris reiterated to the President of the UN Assembly that CARICOM Member States were committed to the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, even though there are financial constraints.

As we move forward, we recognise that the political declaration from this High-level meeting provides useful guidelines. We realise too, that these global guidelines are most effective if we take into consideration the special cultural, political, social and economic circumstances of the regional and national communities to which they apply.  Our approach includes, among other elements, an emphasis on health of women, girls and adolescents in the ‘Every Caribbean Woman Every Caribbean Girl Initiative’, and complementarity between the PANCAP and the Caribbean Public Health Agency,” said the prime minister.

CARICOM countries are making every effort to achieve the level of financial sustainability required to achieve the targets for ending AIDS.  Nevertheless, we will continue to advocate against the insidious classification based on GDP only, for access to concessional funding for HIV and other development areas. We take this view because such a classification fails to include other conditions and vulnerabilities that impede small economies like our own and those of other small island developing States. In this vein, we call on the international community, in particular, development partners, to safeguard access to special funding and financing for middle income countries, in particular, those in the Caribbean, as we work to maintain the gains of our HIV response and commit to accelerate action towards ending AIDS by 2030,” he added.

Prime Minister Harris thanked the Secretary-General of the UN for his leadership which he said extended beyond the high-level meeting.

We in the Caribbean pledge our support for the political declaration to be implemented, in accordance with our national circumstances and priorities, and acknowledging that it is part of a legacy to the World order, as well as a significant commitment to promoting the health and well-being of all of our citizens,” Prime Minister Harris said.

On the fringe of the UN Meeting, Prime Minister Harris, who is accompanied by the Honourable Wendy Colleen Phipps, Minister of State within the Ministry of Health, and His Excellency Sam Condor, Ambassador to the UN, met a breakfast caucus of representatives from the Region that included governmental, non-governmental and development partners coordinated by the Pan Caribbean partnership against HIV and AIDS (PANCAP) in the Caribbean

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