Sun | Oct 22, 2017

Uncertainty looms as US pulls funding from HIV programmes

Published:Friday | September 5, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer

Critical aspects of Jamaica's HIV/AIDS fighting machinery may have been disarmed because funding to a key organisation at the forefront of the fight has been pulled. But it is not just Jamaica that has had this life support yanked.

The Gleaner understands that not only has the United States President Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) discontinued it's funding of the Caribbean HIV/AIDS Regional Training (CHART) at the University of the West Indies (UWI).

The Organisation of Eastern States (OES) has been chopped off from US funding as well.

HIV/AIDS expert Professor Peter Figueroa told The Gleaner that the national CHART bodies of countries such as Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and The Bahamas are also in jeopardy because it's not clear where funding will come from.

"We are hoping that because PEPFAR had said that it is continuing to put funding in some of the countries where the epidemic is greatest, including Suriname, Jamaica, Trinidad, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti. They will continue to fund the national CHART [programmes] in those countries, but we don't know for sure."

But even as uncertainty shrouds the future of the training programmes at the UWI and throughout the Caribbean, the Global Fund, from which cheaper antiretroviral (ARV) drugs are made available in Jamaica, is still in place.

"I don't think that those two things are connected, in the sense that we get support from the Global Fund to purchase the ARV medication," said Figueroa.

PEPFAR/Emergency Plan started out as a commitment of $15 billion over five years (2003-2008) from then US President George W. Bush to fight the global HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Figueroa said PEPFAR wants a significant amount of its funding going to those persons who are most vulnerable, such as men having sex with men, and sex workers. "But while it's not necessarily a bad thing, we don't know how its going to map out in practice," he said.

NO BAIN LINK EXPRESSED

He said that with CHART being added to the list of organisations to which PEPFAR has ceased providing financial assistance, "they have not said that it has anything to do with the testimony of the head of CHART, Professor Brendan Bain".

Added Figueroa: "But one can't help noticing that the funding has stopped after Bain's testimony went diametrically opposed to the US policy."

He said the consequences of the cut are important as UWI is without the necessary funds to pay both Bain and others.

Earlier this year, Bain was removed as director of CHART only days after 33 groups from across the region agitated for his dismissal.

However, Bain's dismissal sparked a month-long protest by the Church and other civic groups at the entrance to the Mona campus and he was reinstated after securing an injunction from the court.