The fight against HIV/AIDS continues to be top priority for Government, and universal access to treatment, prevention, care and support services should become a reality by 2010.

This was revealed last evening by Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Social Care, Constituency Empowerment and Urban and Rural Development, Sonja Welch, who was speaking on behalf of Minister Christopher Sinckler at the World AIDS Day Rally held in Independence Square.

She said: “HIV remains a top priority for the Government of Barbados.  In its leadership and coordination of the national response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the current administration commits fully to the promise of universal access to treatment, prevention, care and support services for persons living with HIV by the year 2010.”

In the area of support services, Ms. Welch indicated that her Ministry was fully dedicated to improving the quality of life of persons both infected and affected by HIV.  She pointed to three agencies – the Welfare Department, the Poverty Alleviation Bureau and the Urban Development Commission as being in the vanguard to assist these persons.

Citing the support services provided by the Welfare Department, the Permanent Secretary said that they included monetary grants, food vouchers, clothing, educational assistance for school-aged children, rent and utility payments. She also revealed that the Urban Development Commission (UDC) had been “charged with the mandate to provide housing and house repairs for those persons living with HIV who are in need”.

Ms. Welch added that in the delivery of those services, her staff sought to ensure the dignity and sense of worth of clients.  “When this support is coupled with increased access to treatment, it will be seen that large numbers of persons have been provided with the opportunity to become not only stabilised and enabled, but also to become empowered, thus returning to their normal level of social functioning, and in some cases, even at improved levels,” she remarked.

The senior official pledged her Ministry’s commitment to increase its efforts in the areas of prevention and control in an attempt to reduce, halt and reverse the spread of HIV.  “As a result, we have seen the Welfare Department using every opportunity to educate its clientele during high trafficked periods, and this will continue,” she stressed.

Pointing out that the poor were more likely to contract HIV along with women in particular, orphans, other vulnerable children, persons with disabilities, the elderly and other marginalised groups, she said that they continued to receive special attention in the Ministry’s HIV programming efforts.

Ms. Welch also expressed gratitude to those involved in responding to the HIV pandemic, and the progress achieved thus far, namely the Community HIV Committees, the activists (AIDS Foundation of Barbados, CARE Barbados, United Gays and Lesbians against AIDS in Barbados and Family Care), and the conscientious public for forcing parliamentary representatives and decision makers to place HIV at the forefront.

World AIDS Day is observed every December 1.  

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