PERMANENT MISSION OF ST. VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES TO THE UNITED NATIONS
HON. DR. DOUGLAS SLATER
MINISTER OF HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT
ST.VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES
THE TWENTY-SIXTH SPECIAL SESSION
OF THE UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY
NEW YORK, JUNE 27, 2001
Your Excellency, Mr. Kofi Annan, Secretary General
Ladies and Gentlemen
This meeting is very timely as it provides us with an opportunity to again focus attention on the HIV/AIDS epidemic. St. Vincent and the Grenadines adds its voice to the statements of congratulation, expressed by the delegations that preceded us, for the convening of this special session, to forge a collaborated approach to an issue that is beginning to dominate our national agendas.
The HIV/AIDS disease is a major developmental problem. It is therefore uniquely devastating in terms of increasing poverty, reversing human development achievements and eroding the ability of governments to provide and maintain essential services, thereby reducing labour supply and productivity. The wide spread nature of the HIV/AIDS pandemic continues to make a mockery of the objectives and projections of the Millennium Declaration.
It is well known that the Caribbean is second to the Sub?Sahara Africa in the rate of infection. Many delegates have already listed the statistics so I would not repeat them. The Caribbean is faced with a gloomy future if this rate of HIV transmission continues. St. Vincent and the Grenadines currently accounts for 50% of the reported new cases in the OECS.
The impact of HIV/AIDS on St. Vincent and the Grenadines has been similar to that of other small developing countries. Our scarce, invaluable human resources have been depleted by the death of persons whose skills and expertise have been difficult to replace. The cost of financing training for our citizens is high and the loss of our trained human resource places an increasing burden on our already limited financial resources. Our women of childbearing age are the segment of our society most at risk. This has serious implications for our future generations. It is suggested that half of all new infections occur in young people under the age of 25 years. Given that AIDS kills mostly people in the 15 - 49 age group, it is depriving families, communities and nations of their most productive people.
I believe in the old adage that "an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure", consequently, we must continue to educate our population, by ensuring that they have adequate and timely information, so that they can engage in the best possible practices. In St. Vincent and the Grenadines, we have taken on the challenge by continuing our educational programmes involving NGOs, including community-based and cultural organizations. Our government is currently proposing to provide treatment to HIV/AIDS affected persons within our limited financial capabilities. We have already initiated a programme to reduce the mother-to-child transmissions, in collaboration with the Kingstown Medical College, a private institution.
The cost of medication must not be allowed to jeopardize the thrust to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS. The pharmaceutical industry must continue to demonstrate good will in this regard by making medicines more accessible and affordable. The Public Health safeguards in the Trips agreement must become a real option for developing states and more can be done on differential pricing.
We are facing a global emergency caused by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The global problem calls for a global solution and actions to halt the spread of this deadly disease. We must summon the political will and leadership necessary to face this challenge head on, but without the resources to do so we are fighting a losing battle. We welcome the establishment of a new global fund and applaud the countries that have committed substantial resources to its creation.
We in the Caribbean are proud of our regional institutions that have been coordinating the effort against this disease, and we have many examples of best practices, which need to be systematically documented and disseminated. Our institutions like CAREC (Caribbean Epidemiology Center), CARICOM and CDB (Caribbean Development Bank) have a collection of highly trained personnel willing and capable of leading the fight against this disease in our Caribbean civilization. CARICOM has been the coordinating institution on many fronts in this battle and along with the other institutions mentioned, should be the focal points to distribute the resources allocated to our region from the fund.
In countries like ours, whose natural beauty makes it inviting for tourists seeking peace and tranquility, there is a tendency to avoid openly discussing any health-related epidemic, for fear that vitally needed financial resources would not flow into our economy. In St.Vincent and the Grenadines, we feel that the opposite is necessary. We must display a renewed vigour to inform our citizens and visitors to our shores of the danger that is AIDS. We must fight the stigmatization against those infected with or affected by HIV. We need to strengthen the political resolve to fight back.
Finally, AIDS is a threat to all mankind - it knows no boundaries, colour, class, nor creed. It is only through partnership and international cooperation and active participation by all stakeholders that we would be able to curtail and arrest the spread of this disease. No country, no region, no sector can do it alone, but "Together now", we can.
I thank you.