Caribbean Parliamentarians explore their role in ending HIV/AIDS

Jun 7, 2017

Parliamentarians in discussion at the Pancap Forum

[UNDP, 5 June, 2017]: More than 60 Parliamentarians from 14 Caribbean countries met in Kingston last week to formulate strategic steps to increase advocacy at the highest level for People Living with, and Affected by HIV.

The Regional Parliamentarians Forum organized by PANCAP, Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV/AIDS was funded by the Global Fund and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Parliamentarians established the foundations for increased engagement with national parliaments and national Parliamentary Committees on Health/Social Protection and on Justice especially in countries such as Belize, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica and the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, which have higher HIV prevalence rates.

There was general consensus that Parliamentarians can play a most significant role in championing legislative, policy and programmatic action thereby striking a blow at the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

In focus was the Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS: On the Fast Track to Accelerating the Fight against HIV and to Ending the AIDS Epidemic by 2030. The Political Declaration of June 2016  calls on Parliamentarians to reaffirm the commitment to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030 as a legacy to present and future generations, to accelerate and scale up the fight against HIV and end AIDS to reach this target, and to seize the new opportunities provided by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“We pledge to intensify efforts towards the goal of comprehensive prevention, treatment, care and support programmes that will help to significantly reduce new infections, increase life expectancy and quality of life, and promote, protect and fulfil all human rights and the dignity of all people living with, at risk of, and affected by HIV and AIDS and their families;” the Declaration states.

The regional forum brought these commitments into the spotlight, noting that there remain challenges with addressing HIV infection rates among key marginalized populations such as Men who have sex with  Men (MSM), Transgender individuals, young women and girls, the disabled, and sex workers, amongst others.

Delegates were told that the Region’s leaders have an unfinished agenda as prevalence in at risk populations is high. Thus, leaders need to stay involved in championing responses which include  development of judicial systems to have the ability to serve needs of groups and address pandemic.

UNDP Deputy Resident Representative, Dr Elsie Laurence-Chounoune, in her address noted that decades of experience in the global HIV response shows that human rights-based approaches to prevention, treatment, care and support help to reduce people’s vulnerability to HIV. “The drivers of social exclusion such as stigma, discrimination, marginalization and punitive laws, policies and practices - limit people’s access to basic services and increase health risks.  This is especially the case for key populations at high risk of acquiring HIV, such as gay men and other men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers and people who use drugs.” She pointed out.

Dr Laurence-Chounoune stated that important Agenda 2030 targets addressing stigma, discrimination and social exclusion include SDG 3 (Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being); SDG 10 (Reduce inequality within and among countries) and SDG 16 (Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies).

She also pointed out that in pursuit of these SDG targets, UNDP has continued to work in HIV and health over the years demonstrating a deep commitment to leaving no one behind, including politically marginalized groups such as LGBTI persons, sex workers, and vulnerable women and girls.

Jamaica Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck also issued an impassioned plea for parliamentarians to engage in more advocacy for People Living with and Affected by HIV and AIDS at the policymaking level.

 ‘We, the parliamentarians need to act as advocates for people affected by HIV’, stated Minister Chuck, ‘we need to engage with all stakeholders, including the faith-based organizations to rethink some of the beliefs that isolate the key populations which are most affected by HIV transmission. We, the parliamentarians have an obligation to lead the way in protecting the weak and vulnerable’.

Minister Chuck underscored the high prevalence of HIV transmission among MSM: “the high prevalence of HIV among this key population is very alarming and we must rethink how we deal with this key population. The continued spread of HIV within any population is a threat to public health. We must be cognizant of this and take urgent action. Parliaments must prioritise reducing stigma and discrimination toward people most vulnerable to HIV transmission.”

Selected key population leaders from the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC), Caribbean Forum for Liberation and Acceptance of Genders and Sexualities (CariFLAGS), Caribbean Sex Work Coalition (CSWC), the Caribbean Network of People Living with HIV (CRN+) and UN partners also attended the Forum.

It is generally agreed that as a disease AIDS can destabilize regions and represent a threat to public health and socio-economic development. The Forum provided an opportunity to encourage Parliamentarians to reflect on realities as HIV is not solely a health issue, as its social determinants go beyond the health sector.

Contact information

Gillian Scott, UNDP/UN Communications Analyst, (509 0724; 978 2390 - 9) with contributed reporting from Timothy Austin, Communications Specialist, PANCAP Coordinating Unit CARICOM Secretariat, Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown, Guyana