Guyana

STATEMENT

BY

THE HON. DR. LESLIE RAMSAMMY
MINISTER OF HEALTH OF THE REPUBLIC OF GUYANA

AT THE TWENTY-SIXTH SPECIAL SESSION OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY ON HIV/AIDS

June 27, 2001 NEW YORK




Mr. President Excellencies Ladies and Gentlemen,

More than two decades of the HIV/AIDS onslaught have already left an indelible impact on the social, political and economic fabric of our societies. Lost lives have brought agony to more than 20 million families and the infection has claimed more than 36 million victims worldwide.

This Special Session of the General Assembly devoted to HIV/AIDS is overdue, but it must propel us towards an international platform to forge the much needed political will to address this pandemic and to also identify clear goals and strategies to halt and reduce the spread of the disease in our families, communities, societies and across borders. Success will depend to a large extent on our fight against prejudice, fear, denial and stigmatization and to our commitment to pursue a multisectoral approach with optimal involvement of civil society and people living with HIV/AIDS.

My country, Guyana, is truly under siege and on the precipice of disaster. HIV/AIDS threatens to decimate large numbers of our productive population. Unprecedented numbers of our children are being orphaned. The fabric of Guyanese society is being relentlessly torn apart and our social and economic development, already lagging behind most countries in the Americas, is threatened with destruction.

We hear the cries and we feel the pain of our brothers and sisters in Sub-Sahara Africa where many nations are desperately trying to avert complete destruction in the face of the HIV/AIDS onslaught.

We join hands and raise our voices with our brothers and sisters in the Caribbean as we bravely fight back against the scourge of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. We are painfully aware, however, that the Caribbean is now ranked as the second most affected Region in the world.

Excellencies, Guyana ranks as one of the most affected countries in the Caribbean. More than most, we watch with great anxiety the enormity of the disaster in many of our sister nations in Africa. We know that we must light back now if we are to survive as a free, democratic and viable nation.

In spite of our efforts, the prevalence rate of 5.5% might well reflect significant under-reporting of those affected by HIV/AIDS. The prevalence rates of 45% and 29% among sex workers and persons with sexually transmitted infections are not unlike prevalence rates seen in many African countries.

Excellencies, we, in Guyana, have established a strategic plan that embraces partnerships with civil society organizations and persons living with HIV/AIDS. We endorse the UNAIDS ABC strategy. Guyana is committed to the reduction of Mother-To-Child-Transmission and to addressing gender inequalities, stigmatization, discrimination and human rights violations. We believe that treatment and care are inseparable from prevention efforts.

We, however, do not have the resources to protect ourselves against the pandemic of HIV/AIDS. We recognise that it is not just our business. This is the world's fight.

Guyana is uncomfortable and impatient with more talk, nicesounding rhetoric and declarations. Guyana wants action.

The hesitancy and slowness in granting debt relief is an ally to the scourge of HIV/AIDS in the world. For countries such as Guyana, the real possibility that HIV/AIDS can destroy our already fragile economic base necessitates that debt relief is not merely the reduction of the debt burden, but forgiveness of our debts. Despite the debt relief received by Guyana which has resulted in substantial investment in the social sector and has led to reduced malnutrition, improved maternal and infant mortality rates and greater educational opportunities for our children, HIV/AIDS has begun to erode the significant social progress that Guyana has made in the last decade. Unless Guyana can urgently access additional funds, our capacity to introduce and sustain programs for surveillance, voluntary counselling, testing, capacity building for trained professionals, building of the health infrastructure and treatment, especially obtaining anti-retrovirals will continue to be severely limited. If my country is to continue to survive as, a viable nation, these new and additional resources must be found urgently.

Pharmaceutical companies, too, must further significantly reduce the price for anti-retroviral drugs. Reduction of prices to approximately $US 1,000 per person per year, still exclude countries like Guyana. The offer of reduced prices should also be extended to the private sector so that more individuals could privately access anti-retroviral drugs.

Guyana, therefore, salutes countries like Brazil and India for their efforts in producing drugs at more affordable prices. Such actions are imperatives that poor countries cannot ignore. The knowledge and experience of pharmaceutical companies in Brazil and India should be fostered, particularly in the context of South-South cooperation.

We also commend the international donor agencies and technical agencies fob their support so far. We would urge all partners to restructure processes for greater flexibility and to come forward to assist so that our various countries can build our capacities to respond to this crisis.

For Guyana and other poor countries, intensified efforts by the world's researchers to develop a vaccine is our tomorrow. We are heartened that the UN has recognized the need to make HIV/AIDS a priority and I has dedicated a special session to deal with it. We welcome the proposed Global AIDS Fund and express the hope that the Fund does not become another window to place conditionalities on developing countries. The global fight against HIV/AIDS should not be allowed to be politicised. Too many lives are at stake.

I thank you.