Politicians will need to overcome the huge obstacle of stigma and discrimination and political implications if they are to deliver on Government’s goal of eradicating HIV and AIDS by the year 2030.
Over a dozen Government Ministers, MPs and religious leaders responded to the call of the Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV/AIDS (PANCAP), which hosted a sensitization Wednesday workshop and forum at the Radisson Aquatica.
While PANCAP president Derek Springer praised the efforts of previous governments to address the alarming prevalence of discrimination he noted that most countries, including Barbados, had still not adopted a model CARICOM anti-discrimination bill since 2012, considered to be critical to the fight.
Springer told the parliamentarians: “While we are aware of your legislative, representational and your oversight roles, we are also aware that you come from families who come from communities and you are constantly engaged with your constituencies and are therefore aware of the issues and challenges faced by your constituents.
But in a keynote speech, Minister of People Empowerment Cynthia Forde pledged Government’s commitment to tackle the challenge head-on.
She said: “Stigma and discrimination will really retard the progress of what we are doing in the Caribbean and unless we get hold of it and unless my parliamentary colleagues become a little more familiar with the problems.
“As a ministry, we take our mandate seriously. We look forward to a transformed social landscape that provides equal opportunities for all citizens to achieve a sustainable and acceptable standard of living and the ability of all persons to fully participate in the development of this country.”
Forde added that Government would continue to provide free healthcare services for all Barbadians, but stressed that this alone could not eradicate the disease.
The Minister said: “As you know, access does not always translate into uptake of services, just as knowledge does not always translate to behaviors, especially if we cannot get beyond some of our prejudices and our judgments.
“It is in this regard that we must recognize that the Ministry of Health and Wellness cannot do it alone and that successfully combatting HIV begins with empowering households and communities.”
Ambassador Daniela Tramacere of the European Union’s delegation to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, which sponsored the programme, identified the fight against stigma and discrimination as a human rights issue.
Tramacere said: “This is a matter of human rights… This is a matter of ignorance of those who discriminate and don’t understand what the problem is, where it comes from as if it was related to a specific group of people or sinners or whatever you may call them.
“This is a matter of general concern because we all are exposed to HIV and AIDS, we all are ignorant about the risks we take in our social relations, when we go to hospitals for blood transfusions, when we don’t know what HIV is and we don’t pay attention to the preventative measures.”