“It’s the social environment that dictates” Wescot-Williams urges civil to force sustainability on HIV programsPOSTED: 07/26/12 12:49 PM
St. Maarten – Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams gave a lecture at the AIDS 2012 regional session: “Sustainable Development and HIV, a Caribbean Agenda” entitled “The Challenge of Maintaining Programmatic Consistency in a Parliamentary Democracy” on Monday. The prime minister is Chair of the St. Maarten HIV/AIDS public-private Steering Committee; Regional Territorial Authorizing Officer; and Chair of the EC-OCT Steering Committee for the EU-funded program “Strengthening the Integration of the British & Dutch OCTs in the Regional response to HIV/AIDS”.
During her talk the prime minister stressed that St. Maarten has come a long way in the fight against HIV/ AIDS.
“My country St. Maarten has come a long way in the fight against HIV. This progress is manifested in increased awareness amongst the population; public private partnerships; regional recognition of St. Maarten’s efforts; responses to the call for voluntary testing; private business involvement; attention for female sex workers who come from neighbouring countries and our girl power empowerment program, to mention just a few,” the prime minister said.
Consistency in a Parliamentary Democracy
Later she’d add, “When preparing for this conference back home on St. Maarten sometime last week, participants in the meeting chuckled at the theme “Consistency in a Parliamentary Democracy.” This reaction was caused by the fact that barely two months ago there was a change of government in our country. In the context of this discussion, this remark is very relevant. The reference to consistency in my introduction touches on the more permanent and inclusive goal of sustainability, which, in its simplest form is the balanced coordination between economic, social development and our environment. Parliamentary democracy is about putting and maintaining at the top of the national agenda. It is often interesting to witness how government ministries and ministers defend their perceived rights and entitlements to be at the top of the nation’s agenda. Education secures our future and economic growth brings in revenue, but the stark reality is that in vulnerable and challenging economies, like many of us are encountering, governments face some unenviable choices and politicians do not like making unpopular decisions.”
Efforts to meet challenges
The prime minister continued by highlighting the region’s challenges in controlling and managing the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The Caribbean ranks second after the sub-Saharan region in terms of prevalence.
“However, the region as a whole has made considerable progress. But as we have heard so often, we are not where we should be, can be or would like to be. As countries that range from a spectrum from developed and developing, to least developed, strides made in terms of partnerships and funding are of utmost importance for the region. We too view with hope the advances and promising discoveries, such as treatment as prevention and new HIV drugs. However with apprehension we view the financial crises that have crippled traditionally strong contributing countries. There are many related agendas that compete with the health agenda for attention in our countries, such as human rights, economic development, fiscal options, gender and education. The reason is clear, however, that HIV/AIDS fits all agendas.”
“Laws do not fall from the sky”
The prime minister also continued by stating that laws can be changed, but the parliamentary process must be engaged. Laws are mostly triggered by societal needs, pressure, and evolution which come about in many ways.
“Laws hardly ever drop out of the sky. It’s the social environment that dictates. Laws do not come without debate in a democracy; they shouldn’t. This debate is healthy and agendas become clearer. Laws however are not the panacea. What about the enforcement? Can you enforce laws against discrimination without simultaneously dealing with the deeper roots of stigma and prejudices in a community? There was a time on St. Maarten when like in many places; civil society was at the forefront of the HIV campaign. And they are still very much government’s strategic partner in this campaign. If civil society, and let’s be specific, those who are most at risk, those who are affected by, determine the HIV/AIDS agenda, the consistency which could be endangered due to changing political agendas, could be safeguarded.”
Governments role and leadership in combating the disease
The prime minister also reiterated that government’s role and leadership, also externally, is crucial for the credibility of national programs and commitments.
“We have heard it over and over again, said in different ways, that we are at a defining moment in the history of the fight against HIV. At this defining moment, the commitment by governments across the region must be unambiguous; unambiguous at the highest level. In small communities, we need to look at the sustainability, consistency if you wish, of the nongovernmental efforts as well.”
Need for informed parliamentarians
The prime minister also made it clear that informed parliamentarians make it easier to make specific agendas, including an HIV agenda, part of the national agenda.
“As long as politicians do not view HIV as the threat to development that it is, there will be no urgency to do their part, let alone put the mechanism in place to secure the strides which have been made and to be at the cutting edge and make the program sustainable. And now I want to go back to the statement: We need to together secure what we have achieved; remaining vigilant and committed to the goals we have collectively agreed to. We need to remain part of the vision of an HIV free world, one of no new infections and one of a worthy life for those living with HIV/AIDS. Those who have been there, those who are there, need our support, more than ever before as we stand at the threshold of a turning tide in the fight against the HIV/AIDS,” the prime minister concluded.
Looking beyond the MDG’s
The Caribbean region is looking beyond the MDGs to develop a new agenda for sustainable development and HIV, based on four pillars: unified gender and SRH, equity and human rights, participation of Caribbean women, girls and men, and partnerships. These pillars will look at identifying fiscal options for sustaining social and economic development, protecting Caribbean minorities and developing civil society capacity to secure social justice, facilitating participation of Caribbean women, girls and men with a focus on how to address domestic violence, reach poor women, and change men’s perceptions. The last pillar proposes a new approach, by encouraging partnerships with bilateral, foundation, social media and cultural leaders. This approach will apply to partnerships within and outside of the region.
The International AIDS Conference is the largest international meeting on a single health issue. Every two years 20, 000 participants representing all stakeholders in the global response to HIV meet to assess progress and identify future priorities. The AIDS 2012 conference is the single most widely covered HIV event in the world and is organized by the International AIDS Society (IAS) in partnership with a number of international and local partners. The conference theme, “Turning the Tide Together”, emphasizes that the HIV epidemic has reached a defining moment and that by acting decisively on recent scientific advances in HIV treatment and biomedical prevention, the hope for a cure and the continuing evidence of the ability to scale-up key interventions in the most-needed settings there is now the potential to end the HIV epidemic.