One of the Ministry of Health’s strategic HIV/AIDS prevention programmes is now in limbo.
That’s because the United States Health Department has cut funding to the University of the West Indies (UWI)-based Caribbean HIV/AIDS Regional Training Programme (CHART) and other health training partnerships, effective September 1, 2014.
In a statement addressed to Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, Minister of Health John Boyce and other Heads of Governments of the impacted countries, the US Ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, Larry Palmer, said the move was a result of a shift in the Barack Obama administration’s policy.
He said funding would now be directed to the “higher prevalence, higher disease-burdened countries”.
Speaking to Barbados TODAY on condition of anonymity, a senior health official said the cut could mean an end to the programme, which would be a major blow to Barbados’ HIV/AIDS fight.
He said the move caught the ministry off guard.
In a statement issued after the announcement of the cuts, Vice Chancellor of UWI Professor E. Nigel Harris expressed regret at the decision.
He said it would have adverse implications for staff employed by the UWI CHART programme in Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica, Grenada, Suriname along with Trinidad and Tobago.
Ambassador Palmer stated in his letter that he was pleased great strides had been made under the partnership to address the HIV epidemic in the region.
For example, according to UNAIDS, during the period 2005-2013, PEPFAR investments contributed to a 44 per cent drop in the number of new HIV infections in the Caribbean.
Stating that the US government looked forward to continued partnerships to address HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean region, Palmer added: “There will be more information and details shortly of implementation shifts and adjustments being made by the US agencies working with partner country governments and civil society stakeholders. We will keep you informed of all further changes as they unfold.”
Meanwhile, the senior health official who spoke with Barbados TODAY queried whether the shift in policy was a result of the controversy surrounding CHART director Professor Brendan Bain. In May, gay advocates in the region called for him to be sacked after he gave expert testimony in a case in Belize more than two years ago in which he suggested that the risk of contracting HIV is significantly higher among men having sex with men (MSM).
He had also testified that, contrary to some public health practitioners and agencies hypothesis that decriminalising the practice of anal intercourse among consenting adults would lead to a reduction in the incidence rate of HIV infections among MSM, there was no published data, to date, which substantiates that hypothesis.
CHART, which was funded 100 per cent by the US government, under the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), provided for the training of health professionals of all disciplines in areas of clinical management tuberculosis, HIV guidelines and prevention of mother-to-child transmission workshops.
“When the United States funds a project, they want their core values emanating from it and they believe in non-discrimination,” the source said.