“We cannot afford to be complacent when it comes to fighting HIV/AIDS”
– First Lady at 22nd International AIDS Conference
First Lady Sandra Granger has said collaboration among all sectors of society must be stepped up so that there is universal respect for human rights, particularly in regard to rights for persons affected with HIV/AIDS. She noted that the world cannot be complacent when it comes to fighting this epidemic.
The First Lady was at the time delivering the feature address at the 22nd International AIDS Conference which is currently underway in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
“Rights remain a perennial issue associated with AIDS. There continues to exist, in some countries and communities, a reluctance to recognise and respect the equal rights of people infected with AIDS. Even in some countries where this equality may be recognised under the law, some persons charged with enforcement (of those rights) act according to their own personal biases and deny those rights.
“Yes, some progress has been made: the number of persons dying from AIDS has
declined; the rate of infection has declined; more people have access to antiretroviral therapy; mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) is going down; we in the Caribbean are particularly proud that seven of the fourteen member states of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) have been certified as having zero MTCT; there is viral suppression; and we have welcomed pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). And yet challenges continue to beset us,” she is quoted by the Ministry of the Presidency as saying.
Noting that Caribbean Community member states still struggle to endorse PrEP as they seek to strengthen responses to threats posed by migration due to economic hardship and political repression, the First Lady noted that a migrant population poses its own challenges to detection, care and treatment, while women and girls who are raped and trafficked may also be unable to access care and treatment.
“We are unable to adequately address STIs such as syphilis, which can lead to congenital syphilis due to mother-to-child transmission. Treatment must address both infections. The number of young people being infected is rising. This is partly due to the fact that youth may not have access to comprehensive health and family life education, and to sexual and reproductive health services.
“Added to this, there are some who still refuse to be tested for AIDS. Key populations continue to encounter stigma and discrimination, hence the disparity in prevalence when compared to the general population,” she noted.
Granger said this demands a concerted effort at the universal, national and community levels to ensure that no one — regardless of age, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation — is stigmatised or discriminated against, and has equal access to care and treatment, once diagnosed.
“It also demands age-appropriate, comprehensive health and family life education from the nursery level, so that our children learn about themselves and are made sensitive about the differences that make up the human kaleidoscope. This includes community involvement. In some parts of the Caribbean, we have a high number of adolescents and young people who have dropped out of school and are both illiterate and innumerate. We have to reach out to them in language and through media that they understand and to which they will respond, so that they, too, may know their rights and source adolescent-friendly health services free from fear or opprobrium. Myths and misconceptions must also be addressed,” the First Lady said.
She noted, too, that legislation which protects the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS must be enforced, so that no person infected with HIV is stigmatised or marginalised in the community, in the workplace, or anywhere.
According to its website, the International AIDS Conference is the largest conference on any global health issue in the world. First convened during the peak of the AIDS epidemic in 1985, it continues to provide a unique forum for the intersection of science, advocacy, and human rights. Each conference is an opportunity to strengthen policies and programmes that ensure an evidence-based response to the epidemic.