Minister of Family and Youth, Dr. Esther-Byer-Suckoo

Barbados’ new HIV Policy has been described by the Minister of Family and Youth, Dr. Esther Byer-Suckoo, as multi-sectoral, developmental and human rights based. And, according to her, this was the first time the island had been able to produce “such a holistic policy” to address the scourge of HIV and AIDS.

Her comments were made during her address to a two-day high level meeting of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV yesterday. She pointed out that lowering the age of medical consent from 18 to 16 was but one of the policies which the Barbados Government was pursuing.

“Evidence suggests that this action will facilitate greater access to sexual and reproductive health services by those youth who are presently in need of such, but do not have the requisite parental support.

“Our new National Strategic Plan represents a dynamic approach to addressing the HIV epidemic within the country. Built on the achievements of the National AIDS Programme to date, our Plan is guided by Goal three of “The National Strategic Plan of Barbados 2005 to 2025” and places human capital at the heart of the national response. In keeping with this, the Government will invest heavily in behavioural change communication interventions,” she told her audience.

The Minister said that over the past 25 years, HIV had emerged as one of the greatest threats to human security, dominating the global landscape; while decimating human capital and weakening social structures. She noted that the disease was no less devastating in the Caribbean, pointing out that AIDS was now among the leading causes of death in persons between the ages of 25 and 49.

But, she noted that Barbados had been reporting tremendous success in its prevention of mother-to-child transmission programme.

Dr. Byer-Suckoo said Government’s response must reflect the dynamics of the disease and adapt to address key issues encountered. “Central to these issues is universal access to HIV prevention, care, treatment and support services by all in need.

“Achieving this goal requires more than access to anti-retroviral drugs. It also includes access to highly trained professionals, suitable facilities, current information and funding. In addition, it calls for elimination of barriers to access through the formulation and implementation of integrated policies and programmes,” she stated.

The Minister underscored the need to engage civil society partners, including persons living with HIV, in the discussions, even though it was neither easy nor straightforward. She stressed that every partner in the National AIDS Programme had to cooperate to attain the goal of achieving universal access. This, she added, must be supported by equally strong action on the part of government.

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