Discrimination continues to be the most formidable barrier to the regional goal of eliminating AIDS by 2030.
Minister with responsibility for the National HIV/AIDS Commission, Cynthia Forde, made the declaration at the Third Global Decriminalization Convening, which opened at the Hilton Hotel on Wednesday.
The conference is being hosted by the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality (ECADE), a regional body for LGBTQ rights and advocacy in the Eastern Caribbean.
Acknowledging that the fight against HIV was far from over, Minister Forde noted: ‘We are fighting two diseases, HIV and the more destructive of the two, the double-headed dragon of stigma and discrimination.”
She said government remained committed to the battle, which was best fought collaboratively, through intense public education; a multi-sectoral and multi -disciplinary approach; research; training and dedicated funding for these activities.
This approach, she shared, included testing the legislative frameworks in innovative ways that were conducive to social development….
“We have no fear of legal challenge to any of our legislation. That is how new law is made and how jurisprudence is enhanced and kept relevant,” she added.
The Minister of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs pointed out that the Government of Barbados recognized HIV as more than a health issue, establishing the National HIV/AIDS Commission in 2001 to deal with what it saw as a development threat.
She said that HIV was among several areas in the ministry which involved vulnerable groups facing stigma and discrimination on a day to day basis.
Minister Forde stated: “These are individuals who, when they have no voice, we have to speak for them and cater to their creature and psychosocial needs.”
She told the audience that her ministry therefore clearly identified with ECADE’s mission of upholding human dignity as precious, and advocating for some of the most vulnerable and marginalized groups in Caribbean societies, concluding: “We can only succeed in making our society socially just if we respect each other’s right to pursue happiness and a dignified life, which is really the essence of empowerment.”