Persons affected by HIV contribute to dialogue on the legal framework and its response to AIDS
Persons affected by HIV were given the opportunity to interact with the persons capable of making and implementing decisions to respond to the disease. This was via a National Dialogue on HIV and the Law hosted by the Ministry of Public Health on October 13 -14, 2016 at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre, Liliendaal.
Guyana has made significant advances in areas such as access to treatment; more than 4500 people are accessing ARV in 22 health centers within the country, and the reduction of mother to child transmission of HIV. Nonetheless, populations at higher risk of HIV infection are still confronting several obstacles that limit their ability to access comprehensive health and social services.
The National Dialogue, the Ministry said was a unique opportunity for Guyanese civil society to present their experiences related to HIV and the law, including suggestions on policies, day-to-day practices and the legal framework as a whole.
Approximately 35 people representing different government sectors, including Public Health, Education, Social Protection, Legal Affairs, Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs and Public Security, and civil society organisations and individuals participated in the Dialogue, which was also observed by several international development partners.
The Dialogue reviewed good practices as well as weaknesses within the legal framework that hamper the comprehensive response to the AIDS epidemic.
Cases related to “Violence against women/Gender-based violence; Children and adolescents in residential homes/orphanages; People with disabilities; Indigenous populations; Sexual orientation and gender identity; Sex work; Prisons and detention centres and Discrimination in social and health services.”
Minister of Public Health, Dr. George Norton, in opening the National Dialogue stated that while “Guyana has achieved laudable milestones in response to the AIDS epidemic… Notable challenges also remain: we have to address stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV or AIDS and against key populations; we need to provide wider access in the hinterland regions and continue to scale-up access to treatment and retention of patients in care.”
The United Nations Resident Coordinator, Ms. Mikiko Tanaka, emphasised that “In order to ensure that Guyana reaches its Fast Track Targets to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030, we will have to remain vigilant and address the challenges of stigma and discrimination and ensure that the all the citizens of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana have access to comprehensive HIV prevention and treatment Programmes.”
This National Dialogue, the third of its kind in the Caribbean, was supported by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The town hall style meeting was ably moderated by Professor Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of the West Indies (St Augustine campus).
The format of the National Dialogue allowed the different actors who were part of the conversation to develop concrete and actionable recommendations for a more enabling legal environment to address the social, cultural and economic determinants of HIV.
Some of the recommendations included calls for strengthened collaboration between the Ministry of Public Health and other Government ministries; establishment of the Human Rights Commission to receive complaints and investigate human rights violations; review of the manner of provision of HIV services in prisons to ensure patient confidentiality and encourage testing and treatment; and culturally appropriate HIV public health interventions in Indigenous communities.