REMARKS BY THE HON. DR. FENTON FERGUSON MINISTER OF HEALTH JAMAICA AND DESIGNATED CHAIRPERSON TO THE OPENING SESSION OF THE 12TH PANCAP AGM
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It is indeed an honour and a pleasure for me to be here tonight at this opening ceremony and awards function of the 12th pancap agm. I am also honored to be the designated chair of this partnership for the period 2102-2013.
I must express my profound gratitude to the government and people of belize for their gracious hospitality and appreciation to the hon. Pablo marin, minister of health for his kind words of welcome.
It is significant to note the advances in the aids response made by belize under your leadership sir, and the bonds that exist between belize and the pancap coordinating unit.
I also wish to commend mrs. Juliette bynoe sutherland, director of the pancap coordinating unit and her staff for the organizational arrangements and for putting together an exciting agenda for this meeting.
Hopefully the aura of this opening ceremony will set the tone for the agm and the high standards for the discussions and relevance of our decisions.
I must also take the opportunity to congratulate the awardees as we celebrate their achievements and contributions to the fight against hiv.
This agm is taking place at a time when there is great optimism about the possibility of an aids free generation. Those of us who attended the 19th international aids conference (iac) in washington dc in july 2012, no doubt came away impressed by the successes achieved all over the world. These emanated primarily from:
• greater access of plwa to care and treatment
• scientific advances that provide hope that a cure is on its way; and
• changes in attitude that permits more open discussions on the need for specific programmes designed to eliminate stigma and discrimination, especially against the lgbt communities.
Notwithstanding these developments, it is important that we avoid the complacency that may yet contribute to a reversal of the gains.
Theme and agenda
The theme of this meeting focuses our attention on moving forward: forging new paths. In so doing, there must be recognition of the need to learn from the lessons of the past. In this regard pancap’s proud and unique tradition is inspiring. But lingering on past achievements cannot by itself get us to a new place and make appropriate changes in response to current demands.
I therefore look forward to the discussions identified in the agenda that place emphasis on ‘where we go from here’ and on “the strategic directions for pancap”. It is obvious that among the most relevant considerations are how pancap’s new strategic plan takes into consideration its complementary role with the newly established caribbean public health agency (carpha) which i also have the pleasure to chair.
New developments in the disease underscore the view that aids is a development issue. In this regard the challenges can only be overcome by solutions that are multi-stakeholder/multisectoral collaboration. They go beyond integrating hiv into the health sector, to a recognition of the need to promote the principles of” equality for all”. I am heartened to see that civil society, faith based organization and youth, feature in the discussions and that time is allocated to a discussion of research and development. As well as with financial sustainability and the wider concerns that go with shared responsibility.
More recently, during the annual caucus of the caricom ministers of health in washington dc the caricom ministers unanimously approved and signed an open letter to the manager and board of the gfatm protesting against the conditionality that literally discriminates against “so called middle income countries” like those in the caribbean that makes it increasingly burdensome to secure support for their aids programmes. No doubt this agm will endorse the position of the ministers. But the agm will need to go further to find a way to discuss the investment challenges to the aids response and help member states to truly unravel the notion of shared responsibility.
Our discussions could not be complete without placing attention on the question of human rights in jamaica. My ministry in collaboration with our national aids programme and other partners have agreed to open the debate with a view to accelerate the agenda for reducing and ultimately eliminating stigma and discrimination. We are planning a national consultation on this topic on world aids day. We have made significant strides over the recent years in reducing discrimination including in 2010 both houses of parliament approved the green paper on a national hiv/aids workplace policy which went through further consultation and cabinet has recently deliberated on the white paper which will return for final approval from paliament. We also endorsed at cabinet level recently measures to treat hiv/aids as a communicablbe disease only for the purposes of reporting and surveillance by giving instructu\ions to the chief paliament council to ammend the public health act.
During the course of this agm we will also receive presentations from our international funding partners and some of the more vocal advocates for care and support of persons living with and/or affected by hiv/aids.
I am therefore keen to learn about the elements that are preoccupying other countries. The issue is, how we can work collectively under the pancap umbrella to eliminate the scourge of stigma and discrimination. It is our biggest challenge. But without conquering it, the achievement of an aids free generation is but a dream. Let us use this agm – to forge new paths that will turn “the dream” into a reality.
We have a full programme of work ahead and i look forward to the discussions that should inform the way forward in terms of the hiv epidemic in our respective countries.