Head of the Public Health Department Dr. Gijs Koot, HIV/AIDS focal point Carl Buncamper and AIDS Support Group Saba Foundation’s programmes coordinator Teodor Stan participated in a two-day European Community/ Overseas Caribbean Territories (EC/OCT) Steering Committee Meeting on Aruba last week. The Saba delegation commended the “steadfast” leadership of St. Maarten’s Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams, who is the territorial authorizing officer for the project and who chaired the steering meeting on Aruba. Titled “Strengthening the Integration of British and Dutch OCTs in the Regional Response to HIV/AIDS through the Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV/ AIDS,” the programme under the technical support of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO/ WHO) allows the Dutch Caribbean territories Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, St. Eustatius, St. Maarten and Saba to coordinate their response to the HIV epidemic.
Delegations from the British overseas territories Anguilla, British Virgin Islands (BVI), Cayman Islands, Montserrat and Turks and Caicos also joined the meeting. Prime Minister Wescot- Williams dedicated herself fully to all meetings and engaged in conversations with participants. The delegates believed that such high-level commitment to the cause was a rare occurrence in the Caribbean, showcasing St. Maarten’s regional leadership in public health. Saba’s HIV-testing and counselling services are closely linked to those on St. Maarten.
In her opening address, Wescot-Williams stressed the need for the region to move forward together not just within the EC programme, “but also beyond that point in recognizing that there is strength in numbers, that there is much that we can learn from one another, that we can agree with each other in going forward as we seek to turn the statistics in our favour as far as the prevalence of HIV/AIDS is concerned in our region. Turn it in our favour by being the region that does the most, that does it best, in terms of that collective response.” Her speech set the stage for the key topics of the meeting “sustainability, integration and human rights.”
The progress report 2010- 2012, outlining key achievements and highlighting challenges encountered during the implementation process, was presented in the first plenary session. A second session focused on the regional initiative for the expansion and sustainability of HIV-response. Dr. Noreen Jack gave a presentation on new initiatives in prevention, treatment and care, followed by different country presentations. A third session focused on shaping a regional approach for the harmonisation of health information systems in the OCTs. The Steering Committee met during the second day, with focal point delegates meeting separately for a technical meeting and training on results-based management. A separate meeting for community advocates discussed the establishment of psychosocial e-counselling support services for persons with HIV. In a plenary meeting, PAHO regional human rights law advisor Javier Vasquez spoke about health and human rights as a legal framework for the regional response.
As a result of the multiannual programme, which is funded by the European Commission, Saba developed a comprehensive HIV-monitoring and response capacity as well as a long-term strategy, headed towards a phase of increased self-sustainability, and integration of HIV-response mechanisms in the public health system. In the steering committee, Saba was commended for the efforts and progress made in regards to sustainability.