Students of the Parkinson School chat with HIV/AIDS counselor Sade Leon-Folkes after the symposium.

“HIV/AIDS is a threat to the future of the tourism industry if left unchecked.”

This assertion was made yesterday by Deputy Permanent Secretary (DPS) in the Ministry of Tourism, Cora Richards as she addressed an HIV/AIDS symposium entitled: “Challenges and Lessons in the Response to HIV/AIDS in the Tourism Sector” at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.

While noting that HIV/AIDS “impacts on the age group [i.e. persons between 16 and 50] which is most likely to be employed in the industry and to travel frequently for business or pleasure”, Mrs. Richards said, “The Ministry of Tourism fully agrees and believes that there must be leaders to champion this fight.” She further stressed that it was shown that the best response to HIV, in order to achieve positive results has been through strong and committed leadership.

The DPS acknowledged that symposia on HIV would become a new element of the Ministry’s drive to fight the disease and secure such leadership capabilities. The official added that this would also generate increased knowledge, lead to new ideas, an additional body of work and a spirited drive to assist in the fight against HIV.

Meanwhile, Tourism Development Officer, Madge Dalrymple, in an overview of the Ministry’s work with respect to HIV/AIDS and the local situation said: “Tourism is a major contributor to the Barbadian economy but brings with it a number of risk factors because of increased mobility, transient populations, higher risk sexual activity and the impact of tourists on the society’s culture. If our mitigation efforts are to be successful, then the sector’s local stakeholders will have to assume ownership of the response.”

Ms. Dalyrymple added: “HIV continues to have a disastrous impact on the social and economic development of many countries. It would probably be the main reason why we would not be able to reach some of our Millennium Development goals.”

Echoing the sentiments of the DPS, she said, “We must remember that HIV/AIDS affects the 15 to 49 age groups, which is seen as the most vulnerable and the most productive sector. It adversely affects our families and communities and can also have a very negative effect on the national economic performance.  

Last year, it was estimated that some 14,000 persons were directly or indirectly employed in the tourism industry, the largest foreign exchange earner for the country, grossing Bds. $2.3 billion in that year.

The symposium was held to fulfil part of the National HIV Policy of ensuring tourism stakeholders received the tools necessary to aid in preventing the transmission of HIV/AIDS and to manage and diminish the impact of HIV. It addressed issues of HIV/AIDS relating to the visitor and the impact of the disease on the human resources within the sector.

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