HIV/AIDS fight a success story –Dr. Ramsammy
Guyana Chronicle – April 15, 2008
By Priya Nauth
MINISTER of Health, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy has lauded the HIV/AIDS fight in Guyana positing that it should be considered a success story.
He made this pitch at the opening of a five-day workshop, which was held at the Guyana Labour Union’s (GLU Camp Street headquarters, for the training of counsellors yesterday, under the theme ‘Prevention and Control– the way forward to tackle HIV/AIDS.
The workshop is part of the efforts of the GLU in executing a Guyana HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control sub-project for the Government of Guyana funded by the World Bank.
He said this programme adds another facet in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
“I believe Guyana a poor country has responded in the fight against HIV/AIDS in a comprehensive and innovative way… Guyana must be considered a success story in whatever standard in the fight against HIV/AIDS,” he observed.
“… and I challenge anyone to dispute the fact that we are a success story in the fight against HIV,” the minister asserted.
He offered that Guyana has demonstrated unequivocally that it is possible to confront a scourge like HIV even in a poor resource setting.
Dr. Ramsammy observed that Guyana has succeeded in mobilising financial resources even prior to 2002 when the donor community and technical agencies provided little to none in terms of resources.
But in 2001, the government announced universal access for anti-retroviral drugs for those living with HIV, using its scare resources recognizing the enormity of the challenge, he explained.
According to Dr. Ramsammy, with the resources through the World Bank and other global funds and collaboration with other governments the HIV trend in the country has been reversed.
He observed that today most young people and workers have knowledge of HIV/AIDS and prevention.
“We have come a long way,” the minister posited.
He informed the gathering that in a study, before the year 2000 among pregnant women, showed that up to seven percent were tested positive and at the end of 2007 the prevalence was 1.4 percent.
Similarly, a survey in 2001 among commercial sex workers showed between 45-48 percent were positive and in 2006 the prevalence was approximately 25 percent and in minors prior to 2001, various studies showed that between seven and 11 percent of that mobile community were tested positive while in 2006 it was 3.9 percent.
He noted that for pregnant women who were positive and gave birth, around 38 percent of the babies tested positive.
Dr. Ramsammy said only 5 percent of the babies are tested positive for HIV today.
Another stride, he said, is that today there is the capacity to test the baby from the first week the baby is born while formerly the waiting period was 18 months.
“…this is an outstanding and tremendous success story”, he said.
‘Second stocktaking report’
The Health Minister said the ‘second stocktaking report’ which was published by UNICEF, WHO and UNAID talked about universal access goals for children and women.
He explained that in 2005 four Ps were established, which became universal access goals for 2010.
Dr. Ramsammy said the report disclosed that only three countries in Caribbean are on track to meet the 2010 goals.
He explained that by the end of 2006 there should be providing 48 percent of mothers with prevention of mother to child management and treatment and 80 percent by 2010.
Dr. Ramsammy asserted that at the end of 2006, access and testing of women were being provided at the rate of 65 percent.
Eighty-seven percent of women received prevention of mother to child service at the end of 2007, he noted.
Rejecting the unfavourable claims by some organisations, without naming them, that Guyana is not on track in the HIV/AIDS fight, he declared: “Guyana has by more than two years reached our target… we are on track for 2010 and any other such report is false,” he pointed out.
“I believe these organisations have done a disfavour to the hardworking health workers, participants of non-governmental organisations and unions who see fighting HIV as a national obligation and we have met our obligations and we demand that recognisation from the international community” he stressed.
“I stand on behalf of the people of this country and say that those organisations must correct that wrong statement immediately”, he announced.
“When we bear the burden of fair criticism for the things we do wrong… we must also be given an opportunity to gloat when we do things well and we fight against HIV well today, even if we did not do so in the past,” the minister lamented.
Dr. Ramsammy also disclosed that in about one and half months from now, Guyana will be launching its ‘business coalition’ in the fight against HIV which will become part of the global business coalition.
“Our workplaces are now becoming the focal point in the fight…we have to stop HIV,” he urged.
He noted that Guyana has one of the best workplace programmes in the Caribbean and Commonwealth.
He acknowledged that one of success stories is the leadership role the trade union movement has played in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
“They are playing a positive role in the fight against HIV…step out with pride because we are not going to permit HIV to win the battle,” he charged.
Dr. Ramsammy lamented that few countries can really present a front where the trade union movement shows such leadership in the fight against HIV and that this country stands highly in rank in this respect.
Another plus, he said, is that Guyana has voluntary counselling and testing throughout the country.
The minister also encouraged that the some 20 persons that will train as counsellors should become trainer of trainers to ensure that the union has the capacity to provide counselling and testing wherever workers are available.
He informed the workshop that the government has provided assistance with the funding from the World Bank, which concludes at the end of this year. However, he assured that his Ministry will ensure that the resources necessary to sustain these programmes will be provided.
With this in mind, he said, in a few weeks, Guyana will be submitting a proposal to the Global Fund to ensure that workplace programmes will sustain beyond 2009 to at least a minimum of 2015.
*s a union you represent not only the workers but also their families,” he also reiterated.
He pointed out that HIV only represents one of our many threats to our people’s development, adding that another is the fight against tobacco which is the only killer substance in the world that is legalised.
Dr. Ramsammy expressed his hope that the union will join and take leadership in ensuring that public places become ‘smoke-free zones’.
“I believe all public places in our country should be smoke-free zones,” he advocated.
The minister explained that there is not a law for such except that all health facilities must become smoke-free zones and this will take effect on May 1 this year.
Additionally, the Health Ministry has also declared that all schools should be smoke-free zones.
Among other problems too, he said, are healthy eating and exercise.
The minister mandated the GLU to stage at least one health walk and join the Ministry in meeting the ‘million miles’ challenge.
He said that more than 60 percent of Guyanese do not meet their daily recommendation of fruits and vegetables.
Alluding to food, he posited that Value Added Tax (VAT) is not the cause for rising cost of food prices and urged that people must not allow themselves from getting distracted from the real reasons such as climate change effects and rise of oil prices.
“…this workshop is one of the building blocks for social re-engineering in our country,” Dr. Ramsammy exhorted.