Great fight

UN official praises Barbados’ anti-HIV/AIDs programme

A senior United Nations official has applauded Barbados’ response to HIV/AIDS, saying it should serve as an example to other countries.

The joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean Cesar Nunez said he was generally satisfied with the emphasis which public health officials here had been placing on tackling the virus, particularly in the area of anti-retroviral therapy.

Nunez suggested that when it comes to the fight against HIV/AIDS, Government was putting its money where its mouth is.

“Barbados has shown that it has high coverage of antiretrovirals, so from a public health point of view I can see that there is commitment. This commitment is translated into budgets. We’re going through very difficult times and we are really trying to bring the different countries to the table. There are some countries that are probably receiving grants or foreign aid – countries in Latin America and the Caribbean – we have to address what’s going to happen . . . when those funds are not there,” Nunez told Barbados TODAY on the sidelines of a five-day Caribbean Cytometry & Analytical Society (CCAS) Expert Summit on HIV/AIDS at the Almond Beach Resort.

“I see Barbados as an example of how a country has been able to perform without that aid.  I mean, there has been some, but most of the response in Barbados has been funded from domestic resources to do public health policy implementation and where treatment is delivered or given to people who need it,” the UN official added.

However, Nunez said while the country had an admirable record, it was far from perfect as more still needed to be done.

“Is it perfect? No. Not everybody is yet covered . . . . Barbados needs to do better on prevention because the number of new infections cannot be increasing, or even if it stays flat, when it should actually be going down.

“So that means education . . . information for the new generation. To empower our youth, you need to give them the tools to be able to make the right decision at the right time and those again are topic that deal with sexuality, and sometimes adults are not so comfortable talking about sexuality or offering sexuality information to children,” Nunez noted, adding that UNAIDS believed prevention was an essential plank in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

“We frame it under what we call combination prevention. What is that? Well, we don’t think there is a magic bullet – that only by doing this you will prevent new HIV infections.

“It is definitely education, condom use, there are several methods that the country decides whichever ones are applicable to the country itself. . . . In the prevention of mother-to-child transmission, for instance, it is something that we should be seeing happening in most others and I think Barbados is on a good track for that,” he explained.

Meantime, Nunez expressed some disappointment over repeated reports that many persons were fearful of coming forward for treatment for HIV because of stigma and discrimination, especially by health care professionals.

“We keep on hearing about stigma and discrimination in the health setting which should be the first place this should have gone away. I feel that every opportunity that public servants or people in public health and everybody working on the response [gets] to address it can bring it to the table and talk about it. That will be the only way to make sure that it really starts going down. You cannot send stigma and discrimination away by decree or just because you rewrite a law,” Nunez reasoned.

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