The year 2006 marks the 25th anniversary of the identification of AIDS – Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome – although evidence exists to suggest earlier cases.
More than 25 million people have died of AIDS-related causes since it was first diagnosed in 1981.
Today, HIV and AIDS still pose one of the largest, most complex threats to human health that the world has ever known, devastating the physical, social and economic health of entire communities and regions.
Not only do people suffer and die from this disease, it robs them of their dignity, their families, their social networks and their livelihoods.
As we observe World AIDS Day this year, I invite everyone to pay tribute to those who have lost their lives to this disease, as well as to their families who continue to feel the pain.
But our observance cannot end with remembrance; it is also a time for all of us to take action, to guard against the spread of this devastating disease.
While government remains committed to keep the promise of providing the best medical care to all individuals living with HIV/AIDS, and to reduce its occurrence in the Cayman Islands, we must all do our part in stemming this scourge.
This year’s theme, Stop AIDS – Keep the Promise, with a focus on stigma and discrimination, is once again a call for everyone to take action and responsibility for ensuring the necessary precautions are taken against this preventable disease. It is a challenge to all of us to become more knowledgeable about HIV/AIDS and its related issues, and to protect the rights of persons living with the disease.
The number of persons with HIV/AIDS in the Cayman Islands has remained low and while we are pleased with this, we cannot be complacent. We must remain vigilant in our health education and health promotion initiatives, to ensure that our local rate remains one of the lowest in the world.
In doing so, new ways of ensuring behaviour change must be explored, so that we can build a high awareness level within these Islands of the devastating consequences of this disease. With the appropriate levels of behaviour change we can Stop AIDS and Keep the Promise.
We can also keep the promise by doing our part to help raise awareness, whether it is in wearing a red ribbon, or getting tested for HIV/AIDS at the Cayman Islands Hospital or any of the district health centres.
In addition to our health facilities, community-based organisations such as the Cayman AIDS Foundation and Red Cross also offer HIV/AIDS programmes which are funded by the Ministry of Health. I thank these community-based organizations for working in collaboration with the Public Health Department.
As an example of this partnership, this week the Public Health Department held a forum with all stakeholders, during which the HIV/AIDS National Strategic Plan was reviewed, and a multi-sector work plan for 2007/2008 was developed. The ultimate goal of this plan is to prevent new HIV infections and the development of AIDS; and to reduce the social and economic impact of HIV and AIDS on individuals, communities, and ultimately on the development of the country.
Much has been accomplished in our fight to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in the Cayman Islands. I am proud that voluntary counselling and testing services are available; that prevention efforts are helping to protect adults, adolescents and children from contracting the disease, and that free antiretroviral treatment is available for all who are HIV positive.
We however must intensify our crusade against HIV/AIDS in a more forceful and concerted manner, to alleviate the devastating impacts of HIV/AIDS in our community. This can only be done through coordination, collaboration and cooperation with all stakeholders.
By Anthony S. Eden
Minister of Health and Human Services