Region talks HIV/AIDS in Jamaica

Regional and international partners at the UNAIDS and PEPFAR Caribbean Meeting on Strategic HIV Investment and Sustainable Financing.
Regional and international partners at the UNAIDS and PEPFAR Caribbean Meeting on Strategic HIV Investment and Sustainable Financing.

Government representatives from the health and finance ministries of eight Caribbean countries recently joined civil society and international development partners in Jamaica for two days of deliberations on ensuring the survival of their HIV responses.

The meeting was hosted by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS Caribbean Regional Support Team and the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. It aimed to encourage Caribbean countries to improve the efficiency of their HIV programmes and develop sustainable results.

The countries represented were Barbados, Belize, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

The Caribbean’s HIV response has achieved significant gains over the last decade. These include a sharp decline in new infections, significant reductions in transmission from mothers to children, dramatic declines in deaths due to AIDS and access to life-saving treatment for two of every three people who need it.

At present about two-thirds of HIV investments in the Caribbean as a whole come from international donors. However, as development partners prepare to reduce or withdraw support, the region must at the same time improve efficiencies, increase domestic investments and make the case for sustained global partnerships.

During the opening ceremony, UNAIDS Caribbean Regional Support Team Director, Dr. Ernest Massiah, noted that since 2000 the region has received US1.3 billion in external financing for HIV.

Massiah stressed that many Caribbean countries’ economic classifications by the World Bank as Upper Middle Income and the global economic slowdown mean that there is now a very different funding context.

“We have to look carefully at where we can make efficiencies, where we are spending more than we should to get certain results and where we must stop doing the things we are accustomed doing because they are not having the impact we would like. We need to look at programmes with a critical eye on results and resources to make those decisions,” Massiah said.

US Agency for International Development Mission Director, Denise Herbol, noted that regional collaborations and investments of the US government and other partners were meant to help countries reach a point of long-term sustainability.

“To us, country ownership in health is the end state where a nation’s efforts are led, implemented and eventually paid for by its government, communities, civil society and private sector,” Herbol said, referencing a 2012 speech by US Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“To get there, a country’s political leaders must set priorities and develop national plans to accomplish them in concert with their citizens.”

Jamaican Health Minister, Dr. Fenton Ferguson, emphasised that while national and regional leaders aim for country ownership of their programmes “there has to be a reasonable transition period”.

“We are willing to take country ownership but we are not there yet. It is my hope that Jamaica will continue to share best practices that would allow for the people of the region to be better prepared in dealing with their health issues and quality care,” Ferguson said.

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