JUNE 27, 2001


Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen

Very soon the day will come, if it has not yet arrived, when everyone, not only those sitting in this room, but also those sitting in our Parliaments and Senates, will intimately know someone who is HIV positive or is dying from AIDS.  There is still so much to do at the sensitization and advocacy level that it is embarrassing to admit that after almost 20 years after the discovery of the virus we are still taking about sensitization.

Without overstating the obvious, we have seen HIV/AIDS move from a health issue, to a social issue, to an economic issue, to a development issue, to a national security issue, to an international security issue and now to a sustainable human development issue.  It can no longer can be ignored.

The economic impact of HIV/AIDS has already reared its head in sub-Saharan Africa and from the projections of the Health Economic Unit of the University of the West Indies HIV/AIDS, will consume approximately 4% of the GDP of Caribbean Territories in the next 10 years.
This is no small attrition of a small country's GDP.  As such this projection cannot be taken lightly.

The Government and People of Saint Lucia remain committed to maintaining the struggle in the battle against HIV/AIDS and wish to categorically declare our country's support to the sentiments already expressed by our CARICOM colleagues who have spoken.

We acknowledge that at this time it is important to recognise that the struggle against HIV/AIDS is not an individual effort but a collective one, and more so for us in the small Caribbean states.

We specifically wish to endorse the contributions made by the Hon. Prime Minister of Barbados, the Hon. Owen Arthur that the response to HIV/AIDS should be a three pronged approach and endorse that any approach should include a search for a cure.

We would like to propose two additional strategies to this approach Mr President:

And secondly, considering:

We would like to propose that any international funds which are made available to combat the epidemic should be available on a grant basis, and accessible, in particular, to small vulnerable state like Saint Lucia.  My government look forward to an open transparent discussion of the governance, use and criteria for access of the proposed global fund.  We view this charitable initiative as a good supplement but not the solution to addressing the emergency of the magnitude that we face.  Of paramount importance is the immediate and adequate adjustment of WTO rules, in particular, the TRIPS Agreement, to allow countries to produce affordable drugs to deal with this development crisis.  This is a more sustainable solution to the obstacles of access and affordability which must be addressed if we are to make a meaningful difference to the millions of people sentenced to death.

We wish to urge that all efforts be made to ensure that the funds flow to the countries most in need, including the Caribbean.

One of the major issues that needs to be actively addressed in the region is the mobilization of resources to fight this
growing public health and development problem.

The University of the West Indies has stated that a conservative estimate of the cost of a comprehensive response by the Caribbean countries to successfully combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic is US$260 million annually over the next five years.  Several donors have already committed to funding the Regional Strategic Plan for HIV/AIDS.

Treatment care and support continues to be probably the singular most under-represented and un-addressed issue in the region.  This ladies and gentlemen is not restricted only to the issue of medication, but also access to care.

The most fundamental and critical component of treatment of AIDS is access to affordable medication.  Sadly, because of the lack of access,  to anti retro viral therapy those diagnosed with HIV/AIDS continue to suffer as a direct result of the prohibitive costs of treatment antiretrovial drugs.
The crucial issues still affecting us in the Caribbean region more specifically in the smaller islands are:

In addressing access to affordable drugs my government would like to reiterate the importance of taking fully into account the development dimension of this epidemic and the need for the financial and trading institutions, to grant access to consessional financing and assistance to structurally weak small and vulnerable economies like Saint Lucia this is a necessary source of development financing, denied our economies, in our efforts at addressing development challenges including HIV/AIDS.

In the Saint Lucian scenario with a population of 150,000 the statistics suggest that since the diagnosis of the first case in 1995, 284 HIV positive cases have been reported; 136 (48%) have developed Aids and 126 (44%) have died.  Despite the fact significant efforts have been made at the national level to mitigate the impact of the epidemic on the population, including reducing Mother to Child Transmission through prophylactic management through the administration of AZT to pregnant mothers to the epidemic show no signs of abating.

We still need to strengthen our surveillance and testing capacity in terms of securing a wider coverage of persons volunteering for testing.  This continues to pose as a major public health challenge.

Therefore as it stands, we still do not have a true picture of the extent of the prevalence of the disease in Saint Lucia.

We believe that with our sustained commitment and initiatives such as this one, together with the necessary international support and commensurate funding that a solution to this HIV/AIDS pandemic will be soon at hand.

I thank you.