Anastasia Cunningham, Senior Gleaner Writer
Dr Karen Hilliard (centre), mission director, United States Agency for International Development, responds to President of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, Milton Samuda (right), during a meeting of private sector leaders to discuss establishing a foundation to ensure the financial sustainability of Jamaica’s HIV programme, at the Wyndham Kingston hotel, New Kingston, Tuesday. At left is chief consultant at the Jamaica Business Council
The announcement by the World Bank that due to the global financial crisis, within the next four years, they will stop external funding of Jamaica’s HIV/AIDS programme has thrown the business community into a crisis mode.
With the core productivity age group, 20-44, at the greatest risk, it has hit home that the economy could be in serious trouble and the productivity level of the country greatly affected if left unchecked.
This reality has caused the Jamaica Business Council on HIV/AIDS (JaBCHA), to seek to establish a J$1 billion foundation to support the national treatment and prevention programme. As the council’s chief fundraiser Earle Moore puts it, “A strong hurricane is heading our way and we have ample time to prepare for it.”
Moore added, “If we don’t control the HIV epidemic, it will lead to reduced market sizes for businesses. There will be a decline in the total number of human resources available for production and investment, and managing human resources within our companies will become more difficult and complicated.”
JaBCHA has the strong backing of the Ministry of Health, Jamaica Employers’ Federation (JEF), Private Sector of Jamaica, Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC), Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) and USAID/ Jamaica. Several key organisations are already onboard, among them Jamaica National, LIME, GraceKennedy, Supreme Ventures, LASCO, Bank of Nova Scotia, Jamaica Broilers and Digicel.
Speaking at JaBCHA’s launch, on Tuesday, JEF President Wayne Chen said: “We are concerned about the increasing number of employees with HIV/AIDS, so we now have to take an enlightened approach to deal with it.”
JCC President Milton Samuda said, “if it is left unchecked, Jamaica will be faced with a crisis, so the private sector has to put heart and soul into it to prevent it. We need to do more for ourselves, instead of depending on others. We have to clean up our own mess. We have to fund the things that are of national importance.”
Wayne Cummings, JHTA president, said he wanted the private sector to take it one step further and “make a bold move. Remove HIV/AIDS persons from the list of persons who cannot get insurance.”
Mission Director of USAID/Jamaica, Dr Karen Hilliard said she was proud to see the greater business community come together to commit funding to fight an epidemic that threatened the productivity sector.
Dr Kevin Harvey, HIV/STI senior medical officer in the Ministry of Health, announced that there is a 2007-2012 National Strategic Plan in place to deal with the epidemic, which is estimated to cost over US$200 million.
Jamaica has relied heavily on external funding to support its HIV/AIDS programme. Over the last two years, the national HIV programme was funded largely by global donors to the tune of US$80.4 million, with treatment and prevention receiving 33 per cent and 38 per cent, respectively. Only one per cent of Jamaica’s National Capital Expenditure was allocated to the health service.
On the other hand, countries like Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and St Kitts & Nevis finance their HIV/AIDS programmes primarily from domestic revenue. While The Bahamas’ programme is solely financed by the private sector.
Between 1982 and 2009, approxi-mately 1.6 per cent or some 27,000 Jamaicans had HIV, 14,354 of which had AIDS, 7,772 of that number have died. Men and women age 20-44, the labour force’s most productive years, accounted for 65 per cent of the reported AIDS cases. Kingston, St Andrew and St James had the majority of cases. Last year, 378 persons died of AIDS, a decline of 43 per cent, when compared to 665 persons who died in 2004.