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Regional parliamentarians push to end AIDS epidemic

Regional parliamentarians push to end AIDS epidemic

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Parliamentarians from across the region met in Jamaica on Tuesday, May 30, for the start of a two-day conference, aimed at cutting by half the HIV/AIDS epidemic across the Caribbean region.

The event, organized by the Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV and AIDS (PANCAP), in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), saw over 40 parliamentarians meeting to discuss their role in contributing to the ending of the epidemic.

The group focussed on several issues, including the United Nations (UN) Political Declaration on ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030 and the UN Sustainable Development Goal of ensuring healthy lives and promoting the well-being of all ages.

Assistant Secretary-General, Human and Social Development, CARICOM Secretariat Dr Douglas Slater noted that a regional approach in combating the AIDS epidemic is necessary, given the enormity of the challenges for any one small country of the Caribbean.

Slater added that a consensus on a regional approach and greater collaboration would position key stakeholders to continue to accelerate the human development agenda.

Addressing the issue of legislative reform across member states of the Caribbean Community, Slater cautioned that the region has made very little progress in legal reforms for key populations.

“I challenge you to focus on reforms to eliminate the stigma for all, including the LGBTI community …,” Slater said. “As parliamentarians you have the responsibility to represent the human rights of all sectors.”

Jamaica’s Minister of Justice, Delroy Chuck, added that the forum sends a profound message that the region is committed to the ending of the epidemic, while noting that parliamentarians should engage in more advocacy for people living with and affected by HIV and AIDS at the policymaking level.

“We, the parliamentarians, need to act as advocates for people affected by HIV,” Chuch told participants. “We need to engage with all stakeholders, including the faith-based organizations to rethink some of the beliefs that isolate the key populations which are most affected by HIV transmission, as we have an obligation to lead the way in protecting the weak and vulnerable.”

Meanwhile, Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly Senator Carlos James, who attended the forum, noted that the agenda focused primarily on accelerating policies and programmes towards HIV/AIDS-related elimination of stigma and discrimination, in keeping with the international principles of human rights and the UN Political Declaration on ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030.

James noted that key prevention strategies through legal and policy reforms can contribute to significant reduction, if not the ending, of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the region.

“Some of the studies are indeed alarming,” James said. “We have cases where one in three of our youth population are inadequately informed about prevention methods and it is a clear indication that in some countries we must strengthen the awareness.”

The meeting was also attended by Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Senator Deborah Charles, Senator Jules Ferdinand, Daniel Cummings, West Kingstown Member of Parliament, and Winfield Tannis-Abbott, secretary of the Caribbean Regional Network of People Living with HIV (CRN+).

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