Health Ministers discuss HIV-AIDS issues at weekly OECS online Forum

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Antigua and Barbuda’s health minister Hon. Molwyn Joseph

OECS — The OECS Commission’s weekly Tuesday Online Forum for key decision makers on health matters was replaced by a special session for health ministers. The session on March 24th2015 reviewed an OECS HIV Regional Strategic Plan (RSP)

In the absence of the OECS Director General, Antigua and Barbuda’s health minister Hon. Molwyn Joseph chaired the meeting. The Tuesday online forum was heavily subscribed; involving Ministers, Chief Medical officers, officials for National AIDS Programmes as well as donor partners.

The current OECS HIV-AIDS Global Funded programme is expected to end in December 2015 and health ministers of OECS Member States at their last Council Meeting in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines agreed to  pursue a new funding arrangement.

The chairperson of the OECS Regional Coordinating Mechanism RCM was invited by the Global Fund to submit a proposal for a three-year grant amounting to 5.3 million US dollars. As a prerequisite the Global Fund requires an HIV strategic plan endorsed by key stakeholders. To this end, Tuesday’s meeting was expected to review, amend as deemed fit and endorse a regional strategic plan. In 2014 resources were mobilized to engage in a research and consultative process among local authorities for the development of the requisite plan. Such a plan was drafted by a number of technical partners including PAHO, UNAIDS, PANCAP, USAID, the OECS Commission and CARICOM. The plan was based on a methodology accepted by the Global Fund. The findings show an epidemic concentrated in the most at risk populations defined as men who have sex with men (MSM), Sex workers and Youth. Drug abusers and migrants are among an additional group of persons at risk.

Another key find is that economic and fiscal challenges limited the protection requirements of individuals thereby risking more exposure to the virus, affordability of services and ability of authorities to meet increasing demands for services. With regards to the latter laboratory services were severely impacted.

The findings also show males dominating the rate of infections and that Health Care costs are linked to early detection and the quality of service.

The recent OECS Tuesday online forum recommended interventions called 90-90-90 targets (http://www.unaids.org/). The OECS health ministers accepted that the HIV AIDS programme will have to be integrated. The ministers then proposed an OECS Regional Strategic plan (RSP) for health of which HIV will be a critical component. They also called for a regional approach to health sector financing.

The ministers also requested that their comments be incorporated in the revised HIVRSP which is to be submitted for their endorsement.

A concept note is to be developed taking into consideration the comments of the recent meeting and be guided by the strategic plan.  The concept note is expected to be presented to the Global Fund by April 20th 2015.

The involvement of the OECS Business Council and the increased participation of NGO and private sector entities were also discussed. Hence the ministers noted that legislation will have to be amended for those entities to make contributions.

Dr. James St Catherine of the OECS Commission who usually chairs the weekly online forum describes the recent session as one with healthy discussions. The next OECS weekly online forum for key Stakeholders in Health is scheduled for Tuesday March 31st 2015