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Working towards an AIDS-free Caribbean

Group photo of faith based organisation representatives and presenters at the April 24-–25 meeting. Photo courtesy pancap.orgGroup photo of faith based organisation representatives and presenters at the April 24-–25 meeting. Photo courtesy

By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ, & Director, CREDI. Visit for our columns, media releases and more.

In today’s Gospel reading (Jn 15: 9–17) we focus on the greatest commandment that Jesus gave us: “love one another, as I have loved you”. If we are to “remain” in Christ, we must follow this Commandment.

In May 2015, Pope Francis, on reflecting on this Gospel reading, said: “…true love is real, it is in the works it does, it is a constant love. It is not a mere enthusiasm…the works of love are what Jesus teaches us in the passage from the 25th chapter of St Matthew. He, who loves, does these things…even the Beatitudes, which are Jesus’ ‘pastoral plan’…There is no love without communicating…True love cannot isolate itself. If it is isolated, it is not love…To abide in the love of Jesus means doing things, it is, an ability to communicate, to dialogue, both with the Lord and with our brothers and sisters.”

Our brothers and sisters include those infected and affected by HIV and AIDS. On April 24 and 25, I represented His Grace at an event at the Hyatt—organised by the Pan-Caribbean Partnership against HIV and AIDS (PANCAP). PANCAP “provides a structured and unified approach to the Caribbean response to the HIV epidemic”.

The event was a Joint Regional Dialogue with faith leaders, parliamentarians, civil society leaders, national AIDS programme managers and youth leaders. The media release issued at the end of the event and notes from a session at which only faith leaders were present, can be accessed on CCSJ’s website.

The dialogue, which came after PANCAP consultations in 2016 and 2017, included approximately 60 delegates from 14 Caribbean countries. Inter alia, the intention was to facilitate an examination of national and regional issues and goals for successfully achieving the 90-90-90 targets by 2020, and ending HIV by 2030.

Hon Ayanna Webster-Roy, Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister, delivered the feature address. She pledged Trinidad and Tobago’s commitment to ending AIDS and removing barriers of stigma and discrimination.  Emphasis was placed on the regions’ recognition that HIV is a critical development problem, which affects quality of life, labour, families, communities and the national economy in the present and the future.

She acknowledged that the region has made significant progress to date: “The Caribbean has halved the number of new infections among adults between 2000 and 2014. However, our work is far from complete, as we have existing and new challenges to address. With the world economic downturn and the pending withdrawal of two key international donors, the funding mechanism will be affected in some countries, and the participating organisations gathered today, will be tasked with finding innovative ways for addressing the needs for sustaining our response campaigns.”

It is estimated that there are 11,000 persons infected with HIV in T&T. In January 2018, it was reported that the Ministry of Health is seeking to find 1,700 people who are HIV positive and do not know. T&T has nearly eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV, with a rate of less than two per cent. There are over 64 testing sites all over the country.

Participants at the two-day meeting proposed a number of practical and strategic initiatives for collaboration by all stakeholders within the context of the CARICOM Model Anti-Discrimination Legislation and the PANCAP Justice for All roadmap for ending the AIDS epidemic.  There was a call from stakeholders to create an enabling environment to reduce stigma and discrimination, and for a review of the roadmap.

Faith leaders present endorsed the Justice for All roadmap because there is belief in the inherent, inalienable dignity of each human person made in God’s image and likeness. We committed to strengthen our response to HIV and AIDS and to build on the important work that we do to raise awareness among the faithful and educate members of our respective communities about issues relating to HIV and AIDS.

This includes: educating from the pulpit about the need for everyone to show love, compassion, empathy for those infected and affected by HIV and AIDS and to avoid stigma/discrimination; striving to ensure that our churches are places of hospitality—intentionally welcoming ALL; providing information about services that are available and journeying with those infected and affected; and sharing best practices within our respective faith communities.

Faith leaders undertook to continue to work with partners to find common ground through respective dialogue, but reminded partners that there are certain values/beliefs which each faith community holds dear and on which there will be no compromise.