Remarks by Garry Conille at the 30th Anniversary of Jamaica AIDS Support for Life
22 January 2021
First, let me express my profound congratulations to Executive Director Mrs. Kandasi Walton-Levermore for steering this ship for as long as she has.
Country Representative, USAID, Mr. Jason Fraser,
Dr. Nicola Skyers, Acting Director, Disease Prevention and Control and Project Manager – HIV in the Ministry of Health and Wellness,
Canon Garth Minott and other members of the Board of JASL
Masters of ceremony, staff, partners, ladies and gentlemen, guests here and online, Good Afternoon.
Thank you very much for your invitation to share brief remarks on this your 30th anniversary. I bring you greetings on behalf of the entire United Nations Country Team in Jamaica and particularly our Joint Programme on HIV and AIDS – UNAIDS – and its director Manoela Manova.
JASL’s worthy milestone comes at a time where the global and national HIV response is not where we want it to be and the rapid spread of the coronavirus has created additional setbacks. Sixty-seven per cent or 2 of every 3 Jamaicans have discriminatory attitudes towards people living with HIV. Countries are falling way behind, and the reality is that the 2020 targets have been missed. To get the global HIV response back on track, UNAIDS has called on the world to adopt new, bold and ambitious targets for 2025 in order to set the world back on course to end AIDS by 2030. The 2025 targets seek to achieve 95% coverage for each sub-population of people living with and at increased risk of HIV.
These new targets, seek to ensure a conducive environment for an effective HIV response and include ambitious antidiscrimination targets so that:
less than 10% of countries have punitive laws and policies,
less than 10% of people living with and affected by HIV experience stigma and discrimination, and
less than 10% experience gender inequality and violence.
The language of these targets, however, should be quite familiar to JASL. You see, these targets, described as bold, new and ambitious by the global community, have been some of JASL's guiding objectives for some time. To create an enabling environment and maintaining human rights, JASL works to:
Reduce stigma and discrimination among the general populations and duty bearers,
Promote human rights and social justice through advocacy, support and law and policy reform, and
Reduce gender-based violence and discrimination against women and gender non-conforming males within the context of HIV.
These new global targets are, in effect, prioritizing the work that JASL and its partners have been doing for some 30 years.
The world is catching on to what JASL has known all along, that HIV and AIDS are not JUST public health issues, but social, political, and economic issues which can be solved not with medicines alone, but with solidarity and partnership, education, legal and political change and amplified efforts to end gender-based violence – a key driver of HIV.
Our success in addressing these societal enablers including stigma and discrimination will prevent some 440,000 AIDS-related deaths and avert over 2.6 million new HIV infections by 2030.
As daunting as the idea of ‘targets’ may appear, I am confident that with a spirit of solidarity in our shared responsibility – JASL and its partners are well poised to support these global goals.
In fact, with the support of UN agencies PAHO/WHO, UNAIDS, as well as Pepfar, USAID and other development and bilateral partners, the Government of Jamaica with its CSO partners continue to make inroads in the HIV response.
PAHO/WHO and UNAIDS through the United Nations COVID-19 Response and Recovery Multi-Partner Trust Fund (COVID-19 MPTF) have provided vital personal protective equipment (PPE) to enable CSOs to continue to provide essential support and services to some of Jamaica’s most vulnerable populations while protecting staff against COVID-19.
UNAIDS continues to support the development of Jamaica’s concept note for the Global Fund, while supporting the advancement of the Fast-Track Cities Programme to end AIDS in Kingston by 2030.
Once, thought to be too ambitious, the Caribbean region now leads the world in the elimination of Mother-to-child transmission. PAHO’s figures also indicate that AIDS-related deaths and HIV infections have declined more than 30 per cent in the Caribbean in the last decade. And it must be noted that a significant number of Jamaica’s key population targets are gleaned from the efforts of CSO partners like JASL and their comprehensive health and case management models for bringing persons to care.
JASL’s leadership in the national rollout of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV, brings Jamaica on par with HIV strategies being utilized in the developed world. I also commend the Government of Jamaica for this steady partnership. As you look towards another 30 years, I encourage you to build on this innovative work and rich experience. Continue to be guided by the voices of PLHIV, and the communities you serve.
Looking ahead, the recovery from COVID-19 must address the pre-existing conditions it has exposed and exploited. COVID-19 will not be the last. As development partners, and government, we must prioritize the strengthening and integration of health systems, including community-based health systems to be better equipped to respond to HIV and emerging health issues.
Finally, I must say that it is a false, though common belief that the donor community and development partners are the drivers of the vehicles of change; that we, with our resources, collect partners along the journey towards targets and goals.
The truth is, we are facilitators and mobilizers of technical and financial resources, working in concert with you, the leaders in the development and the drivers of change. You have been on the ground before we have, and are often there, long after we leave. That is true resilience.
Before the international community developed specific programmes of development assistance for a civil society HIV response, there was a group of well-thinking and well-caring Jamaicans who sought to provide care and support to those most affected by HIV and AIDS. The resilience of that small group, who met in the side of a house, has resulted in the proud and resilient institution we celebrate today.
A few months ago, WHO’s Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus commended the Government of Jamaica, for its leadership and preparedness in containing the spread of COVID-19.
I would like to add to this commendation, by recognizing you - Jamaica AIDS Support for Life and your civil society partners who braved these challenges in service to PLHIV and your country by maintaining HIV prevention, treatment, and support programming over these 30 years and especially now, in this time of significant challenges due to COVID-19.
Congratulations on this your 30th year. Our partnership and the communities you serve are counting on at least 30 MORE years of your resilience.