Minister of Family, Youth, Sports and Environment, Dr. Esther Byer Suckoo

As Barbados prepares to start its second HIV/AIDS Project with the World Bank, an official there is reporting that the first project which closed in December 2007 was “very successful”.

Senior Health Specialist (Human Development) with the World Bank, Dr. Joana Godinho, said there was a very strong institutional structure in place and impressive results were recorded in terms of lives saved and improvement of quality of life of people living with HIV/AIDS.

Dr. Godinho made the comments today during a ceremony for the launch of the Second Government of Barbados HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Project and five-day financial workshop at the Warrens Office Complex.

She told the gathering, however, that several challenges remained, and listed them as including the rising number of reported HIV cases, the rapidly increasing feminisation of the epidemic, and the strengthening of the social care of people living with HIV.

Government recently signed the Sector Investment Loan of US $35 million with the World Bank for the second project, which will assist with the implementation of the National Strategic Plan for HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control 2008-2013 and the approved Behavioural Change Strategy.

While delivering the feature address, Minister of Family, Youth, Sports and Environment, Dr. Esther Byer Suckoo, said the Behaviour Change Communication (BCC) position within the Commission had been temporarily filled and that a permanent officer would be in place shortly.

Explaining that having a BCC specialist on board was key to the HIV/AIDS Commission’s programme, Dr. Byer Suckoo stated: “BCC programmes would be implemented over the next five years to reach key populations at higher risks. The BCC interventions would be multi-channelled, including peer communications, counselling, mass media and condom social marketing.

“High quality research would be conducted to determine the knowledge, attitudes and practices of key populations at higher risk regarding HIV/AIDS practices. In addition, research would be conducted to determine proximate determinates of behaviour as well as barriers and enabling factors.”

She pointed out that the success of the new BCC programme required the training and coordination of all its partners.

Dr. Byer Suckoo promised that increased emphasis would be placed on building the capacity of civil society organisations to work directly with vulnerable populations at higher risk. “I am sure that some of the planned programmes under this new project are likely to be extremely controversial. They will require social and attitudinal change in diverse areas such as enforcement of laws against stigma and discrimination, transactional sex and multiple sexual partnerships.

“The policy recognises the need to develop and operationalise laws and policies to protect the rights of persons living with HIV, to meet the challenges posed by stigma and discrimination, as well as new demands involved in expanding prevention, treatment, care and support services,” the Minister said.

But she noted that prevention would be the main focus of the national AIDS Programme at this juncture, adding that they needed to reduce the new cases of HIV occurring here. She opined that this could only be done by persons determining their HIV status and suggested that getting tested was necessary.

“And you must return for the results of your HIV test,” she urged, since the Ministry of Health reported that more than 95 per cent of the persons had returned for results after voluntary counselling and testing at various health fairs and other events.

“For the small percentage of persons who do not return for their results, we must find ways of reassuring such persons that it is also imperative to know their status,” Dr. Byer Suckoo said.

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