Minister of Health, Donville Inniss, presenting a??painting of the HIV Food Bank and Personal Development Centre??to Vashti Inniss, retired Health Educator in HIV Management??and initiator of the HIV/AIDS Food?? Bank.??

This country is the first in the region to have a dedicated HIV/AIDS Food Bank and Personal Development Centre (The Vashti Inniss Empowerment Centre).

It was officially opened today at Ladymeade Gardens, Jemmotts Lane, St. Michael, by Health Minister, Donville Inniss.

In addressing the ceremony, Minister Inniss pointed out that the new facility signalled Government’s commitment to meet the 2006 United Nations’ General Assembly goal of Universal Access to comprehensive HIV prevention, programmes, treatment, care and support by 2010.??

He said: "The results to the scaling up of efforts have been promising, with statistics showing that persons are now learning to live with HIV instead of waiting to die from it. In scaling up towards universal access, countries must ensure that nobody is left behind and our efforts must therefore be equitable, accessible and affordable. The opening of the HIV/AIDS Food Bank and Personal Development Centre is one of the ways in which this Government cements its commitment to universal access."

He explained that universal access signified a concrete commitment and a renewed resolve among people around the globe to reverse the course of the epidemic. "It is not a new initiative, but rather it builds on past processes and infuses existing initiatives with new momentum," said Mr. Inniss.

Barbados’ Health Minister further observed that "AIDS is an exceptional crisis requiring an exceptional response" and reflected that other commitments had been made in response to the pandemic. Among them was the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS in 2001, where the disease increasingly received the political and financial attention it deserved.

While stating that the facility would improve accessibility to essential prevention and care services, he said Government recognised that cost should not be a barrier to essential needs such as medicines, diagnostics and services and meaningful information.?? He stressed: "Services must be available when and where people need them, and they should be able to access them, without fear of prejudice and discrimination. Our programmes must also be sustainable, knowing that HIV is a lifelong challenge requiring sustained action for preventing new infections and saving and improving the quality of the lives of those with HIV. Services must, therefore, be available throughout people’s lives rather than as one-off interventions."

As its name suggests, the facility houses the food bank and a personal development (or empowerment centre) that provides comprehensive HIV prevention and psychosocial support and care services to those in need. The Personal Development Centre is dedicated to the work of an early pioneer in the field of empowering persons infected and living with HIV – retired health educator, Vashti Inniss.

According to the Health Minister, the combined facility would ensure that prevention, treatment, care and impact mitigation services are delivered with the full inclusion of people living with HIV, civil society, faith based organisations, private sector, international partners and government.??

The HIV/AIDS Food Bank is managed by a Community Nutrition Officer, with specialist training in HIV nutrition. She will be assisted by a cadre of dedicated volunteers. Psychology services will be provided by a clinical psychologist; while HIV testing and counseling, and community health education will be the responsibility of the Ministry of Health.

The unit also houses the Sex Worker’s Project and three non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that cater to the needs of persons living with HIV (PLHIV). Housing these NGOs in this state-owned and operated facility, represents, according to the Health Minister, the Ministry’s strengthening of strategic alliances with key partners who comprise the National AIDS Programme.

The HIV/AIDS Food Bank and Personal Development Centre is located next door to the Barbados State-of-the Art Ladymeade Reference Unit, the specialty clinic responsible for the management of PLHIV in Barbados and known region-wide for its accredited laboratory. It is also neighbour to the AIDS Foundation Inc. of Barbados, a private sector response to the HIV epidemic.

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