Concerns were Sunday evening raised about the slash in international funding for the fight against HIV and AIDS at 5th International AIDS Candlelight Memorial in Guyana.
Addressing the event on the steps of the St. George’s Anglican Cathedral, Company Path, Georgetown; Vice Chair of the Coordinating Mechanism for the Global Fund in Guyana, Desiree Edghill.
“Our funding was cut by fifty percent this year and so the talk is more bang for the buck…They want you do more with less and so now we have to ensure that the little that we have – that much value is given to it and when it is all over we can say this is what we have and these are things that we have achieved,” she said.
The Global Fund has given Guyana US$18 million for the next four years, down from almost US$40 million.
The vigil was held under the theme “Let’s Keep the Light on HIV” a stone’s throw from a mobile HIV, syphilis and blood count testing unit that was deployed by the Ministry of Health. The health officials were also conducting a behavioural and biological surveillance study to determine HIV prevalence in the country and the levels of knowledge, attitudes, practices and behaviours related to HIV and other diseases.
Executive Member of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), Joel Simpson noted that less funds are being allocated to fight the disease. “It’s cause for concern particularly for communities who are hard-hit and affected,” he said.
Simpson noted that while Guyana has been making progress in fighting mother-to-child transmission and stabilizing infection rates, key vulnerable segments of the population such as male homosexuals, transgender persons, sex workers, drug users and youths. “Some of those groups have as high as twenty percent prevalence rates in those communities so HIV is still very much a crucial issue for Guyana,” said the gay rights activist.
Reduction in funding by the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), for example, resulted in the closure of the Roman Catholic-run Roman Catholic-run St. Vincent De Paul Centre on Princess Street, Werk-en-Rust.
Edghill said progress has been made in ensuring access to treatment and care, promoting involvement and garnering resources but stigma and discrimination remained major challenges. She questioned whether stigma and discrimination was only about laws and suggested that it started with how people treat and interact with those who are HIV positive. “Clearly stigma and discrimination begins with all of us,” she said.
Of major concern to Edghill was the refusal by a large number of infected persons to access medication because they do not want to expose their status. “We have medication for persons living with HIV and AIDS in Guyana. I do not know with the amount of people who can be treated for HIV and AIDS is accessing those medication and it is not because they can’t but because they won’t because they feel that they will be stigmatized and discriminated against,” she said.
She hoped that Guyana could take advantage of the Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV/AIDS (PANCAP)-organised Justice For All project aimed at ensuring the respect of justice and human rights across the board.