The "Advancing Parliamentary Leadership in Community Dialogues on HIV Prevention, Ending Stigma and Discrimination Project" will be launched on Monday, July 18, at the Accra Beach Hotel, Rockley, Christ Church at 9:15 a.m.

Great progress has been made in Barbados by the National HIV/AIDS Commission and its governmental and non-governmental partners in fashioning and implementing integrated responses to halting and reversing the spread of HIV and AIDS. With a focus on care and treatment, HIV mortality rates in Barbados have declined significantly as have mother-to-child transmission rates.

Despite investments in public education, many engage in risky sexual behaviour and stigma and discriminatory attitudes continue to impede access to prevention, care and treatment.

In this context, the Parliament-approved "Barbados National HIV Policy: A Framework for Action 2008 prioritises communications and advocacy for behaviour change as well as the securing of an environment that encourages respect and tolerance towards people living with HIV and persons ???at risk’.

One objective of the Barbados policy is "to achieve positive and sustained behavioural change, not only among the vulnerable groups, but also across the entire population through evidence-based planning and targeted interventions."

Parliamentarians, given their constituency and community bases of involvement, are well placed to be effective leaders of discussions on the behavioural and cultural changes needed for prevention.

They can also act as advocates to reduce the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS, to promote greater awareness of the disease, and to influence more effective community responses.

To this end, the "Advancing Parliamentary Leadership in Community Dialogues on HIV Prevention, Stigma and Discrimination" project is being led by the Office of His Honour The Speaker Michael Carrington of the House of Assembly of Barbados.

The project is supported by the United Nations System in Barbados with funding being provided through the UNAIDS Project Accelerated Funds facility. The Barbados National HIV/AIDS Commission (NHAC) and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) are supporting the Office of the Speaker in the project’s implementation.

In recognition that leadership is critical for an impactful HIV/AIDS response, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU – international organisation of Parliaments), UNAIDS and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) collaborated on the second edition of Taking Action Against HIV: A Handbook for Parliamentarians. The book notes that Parliamentarians are "the ???voice’ of the people; opinion leaders and decision-makers; lawmakers; overseers of Government activities; and overseers of national budgets and thus have the potential to impact on every aspect that affects HIV mitigation efforts."

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