Minister of Youth, Family and Sports, Dr. Esther Byer Suckoo, in discussion with Chair of the National HIV/AIDS Commission Research Committee, Professor Christine Barrow, at the symposium. (Image: Fabian Todd)

A call has gone out to community leaders in all spheres of worthwhile activity across Barbados to help combat the "narrow-minded attitudes" that unwittingly assist the spread of HIV, to the detriment of society.

Minister of Youth, Family and Sports, Dr. Esther Byer Suckoo, made this appeal today to the community leaders to join Government in leading the way to change those mindsets. She was at the time addressing the opening of a National HIV/AIDS Commission’s 2009 two-day Research Symposium at Hilton Barbados.

Dr. Byer Suckoo told the gathering that the main focus of the forum would be to develop a new direction in HIV Prevention and Control in Barbados, and said she was keen to hear the findings, especially those perspectives on the island’s national response.

"This would give Government an insight into how the response to HIV here is viewed by the general public; what is seen as our strengths and weaknesses; how the public/private sector partnerships have been progressing; what have such [partnerships] achieved; and what is working and what is not working. There would no doubt, out of the findings, have to be changes and some avenues may need to be revamped or discontinued," she suggested.

The Minister assured the participants that "the Government of Barbados stands ready to tackle these issues head-on by sensitisation, education, policies and legislation. We are dismayed that the Caribbean region boasts the second highest incidence and we are determined to change that," she stated.

To date, more that 25 million people worldwide have succumbed to HIV, and Dr. Byer Suckoo noted that research carried out by the World Health Organisation had shown that while access to antiretroviral therapy continued to expand, there was still concern that access to treatment services had fallen short of the needs, and the current global economic crisis had raised some concerns about antiretroviral sustainability.

The Minister opined that Barbados, like other countries affected by HIV, should be wary of the negative effects that could surface as a result of the current global economic situation.??

She urged Barbadians to embrace those living with HIV and desist from acts of stigma and discrimination, stressing that they also had human rights and should be treated no differently from those who were not HIV positive.

This year’s theme for World AIDS Day which was observed yesterday, December 1, is "Universal Access and Human Rights".

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