Tuesday, May 30, 2017 (PANCAP Coordinating Unit, CARICOM Secretariat): The Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV and AIDS (PANCAP) Regional Parliamentarians Forum, 30 – 31 May, Kingston, Jamaica, commenced with a stirring keynote address by the Hon. Delroy Chuck, Minister of Justice, Jamaica.
Minister Chuck addressed the need for parliamentarians to engage in more advocacy for People Living with and Affected by HIV and AIDS at the policymaking level.
‘We, the parliamentarians need to act as advocates for people affected by HIV’, stated Minister Chuck, ‘we need to engage with all stakeholders, including the faith-based organizations to rethink some of the beliefs that isolate the key populations which are most affected by HIV transmission. We, the parliamentarians have an obligation to lead the way in protecting the weak and vulnerable’.
The Jamaican Minister of Justice underscored the high prevalence of HIV transmission among men who have sex with men (MSM), ‘the high prevalence of HIV among this key population is very alarming and we must rethink how we deal with this key population. The continued spread of HIV within any population is a threat to public health. We must be cognizant of this and take urgent action. Parliaments must prioritise reducing stigma and discrimination toward people most vulnerable to HIV transmission’.
Minister Chuck emphasized the role of the faith-based community and urged the MPs and other stakeholders present to embrace the power of the religious community and utilize their influence to reach weak and vulnerable communities. ‘We must not underestimate the influence of faith leaders; this can be a powerful tool for ending HIV and AIDS. We, the parliamentarians can take the lead and join forces with key stakeholders to support people living with HIV and advocate for policies which seek to reduce HIV transmission and end deaths from AIDS’.
The Minister’s keynote address formed a significant segment of the opening ceremony of the PANCAP Regional Parliamentarians Forum, which is a platform for parliamentarians from across the Region to discuss their involvement in ending HIV and AIDS. Government ministers and members of the opposition participated.
Selected key population leaders from the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC), Caribbean Forum for Liberation and Acceptance of Genders and Sexualities (CariFLAGS), Caribbean Sex Work Coalition (CSWC), the Caribbean Network of People Living with HIV (CRN+) and UN partners also attended the Forum.
The focus of the Forum was a discussion on the targets of the Political Declaration of June 2016 and the implications for parliaments in the Caribbean. Parliamentarians established the foundations for increased engagement with national parliaments and national Parliamentary Committees on Health/Social Protection and on Justice especially in countries such as Belize, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica and the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, which have higher HIV prevalence rates.
The Forum, which is funded by the Global Fund and facilitated by the PANCAP Coordinating Unit and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), formed part of a wider intervention programme created by PANCAP within its Justice For All (JFA) Roadmap. It is expected that the discussions between regional parliamentarians, civil society representatives and other stakeholders will result in the formation of strategic steps, which can be implemented by parliamentarians to increase advocacy for People Living with, and Affected by HIV at the highest level.