Is Jamaica serious about fighting HIV- AIDS? This month Philip Dinham takes a serious look at the effort in Jamaica to fight HIV- AIDS.
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Fighting HIV- AIDS Takes On New Meaning In Jamaica

Although Jamaican Health authorities describe ugly as the picture of HIV/AIDS situation in Jamaica while saying the rate of infection continues to be unacceptably high. The public have been asked to uphold all level of civility while interacting with those infected by the disease.

The Jamaican government is hoping that the opening of the UNAIDS office in Kingston, with its vast expertise in this area of advocacy that the public will become sensitized to the merits of helping Jamaicans affected by the disease. The UNAIDS office it is hoped will help to mobilize and empower the public, private and civil society while ensuring that the involvement of all sectors and groups join in supporting AIDS victims.

Mr. John Junor, Minister of Health said recently that �the UNAIDS and its partnering agencies have been instrumental in providing both financial and technical assistance in the fight against the pandemic in Jamaica�. Most notably, the minister said, “UNAIDS has been instrumental in the reduction of prices for antiretroviral drugs for Jamaica and together with UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) they have provided funds for the pilot project for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.”

At a ceremony to mark the official launch of the office at the famed Devon House, Dr. Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS and under-secretary of the UN, said, “The role of the UNAIDS office in Jamaica will be to provide swift, accessible policy dialogue and technical support on key emerging issues, advocacy to keep AIDS high on the national level.” Reports the Jamaica Gleaner

The new office in Jamaica will be headed by Miriam Maluwa, the UNAIDS senior adviser on law and human rights, and will also serve the Northern Caribbean islands of Cuba and the Bahamas.

For his part, the Chief of Epidemiology and AIDS in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Peter Figueroa, says Jamaica is recording one-thousand new cases of HIV infections each year.

He attributes this high rate of infection, in part, to persons engaging in unprotected sexual contact. �The Caribbean region is only second place to Sub-Sahara Africa as the region with the highest number of HIV/AIDS infections on the planet�. Says Figueroa

As the rate of infection increases, the greatest concern now across most countries in the region is will the Caribbean people be able to manage their careers and live productive lives as known HIV victims. There are persons who have lost their jobs because they have tested positive for HIV/AIDS. Many of them are now reluctant to seek the intervention of lawyers to have them reinstated, because of the stigma associated with HIV discrimination.

According to Neville Moodie, director of the Industrial Safety Department in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, �Jamaican workers who are dismissed because of their HIV/AIDS status are at a disadvantage�. This because there are no laws in place to protect them from workplace abuse.

Mr. Moodie disclosed though, that in the absence of these laws, the ministry was working closely with the Public Defender, Howard Hamilton to help workers who have apparently been dismissed because of being HIV positive .

The Jamaica AIDS Support in 2005 is taking the rights of HIV victims seriously. As part of their mission, The (JAS) is committed to tackling the stigma and discrimination as issues deserving critical attention in the Jamaican and wider Caribbean region. In this regard, the organization launched its 2004 – 2005 anti-stigma and discrimination campaign on October 26, 2004. The campaign which was received by many quarters of the society as being positive, address discrimination against persons living with HIV/AIDS, particularly women and their children, sex workers and homosexuals.

Through documentaries, public service announcements, dialogue with different social players and opinion leaders in Jamaica, (JAS) will explore the logic of prejudice against these groups in Jamaica and where possible intervene to stop the abuses. “We are using popular music, posters, calendars, the Internet, speaking engagements, and several other tools at our disposal to wake people up to the damage they do to individuals, to the community and to the whole country when they stigmatize and discriminate against others because of their HIV status� says Dr. Robert Carr, Jamaica AIDS Support (JAS) executive director.

The Public Education and Advocacy Team, at the Jamaica AIDS Support JAS need every help they can get in making the anti discrimination campaign successful in 2005. They encourage every Jamaican to have a conscience while discussing HIV matters and would love to see more citizens volunteer in their outreach program.

http://www.jamaicaaidssupport.com/volunteer.htm

 

The Ministry of Health is in the process of drafting a national HIV/AIDS workplace policy. The policy should address, protecting the rights of people infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS, reduction of HIV/AIDS-related stigma and discrimination, the socio-economic impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic on Jamaicans while ensuring a supportive, regulatory and legislative environment.

Members of the legal fraternity are however calling for specific laws to help protect HIV victims. �Laws are needed not only to ensure that infected persons get jobs, but that they are able to retain them�, said Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, a lawyer and lecturer at the University of the West Indies, Mona.

At the University of the West Indies, Labour Policy Conference, she called the Caribbean region’s legal framework �woefully inadequate when it comes to anti-discrimination in the workplace�. Anti-discrimination laws should provide HIV/AIDS victims the necessary flexibility in the work place while giving them a better scope for the development of their careers

For more information on the implementation of HIV laws and the protection of HIV victim through AIDS advocacy in Jamaica contact:

Ms. Jacqueline Coke-Lloyd
Jamaica Employers Federation
2a Ruthven Road
Kingston 5
www.jamaicaemployers.com
Tel: (876) 926-6908
Fax:(876) 754-2132

 

Ms. Lilieth Harris
J.C.T.U.
1a Hope Blvd.
Kingston 6
Tel: (876) 977-3545/3861/(876) 927-2468
Fax: (876) 977-4575
Email: [email protected]

 

International Labour Organization
Website: www.ilo.org

UNAIDS: “A joint response to HIV/AIDS:

Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS”
Website: www.unaids.org

Youth against AIDS
http://www.yaids.org

Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals & Gays
http://www.jflag.org

Jamaica National HIV control program
http://www.jamaicanap.org

Caribbean Epidemiology Centre
http://www.carec.org

About the author

Phil Dinham