Last week Dr. Pierre Somse, the UNAIDS Country Coordinator (UCC) for Jamaica, met with Andrew Holness, leader of the opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), and Shadow Minister for Development and Defence. UNAIDS Monitoring and Evaluation Advisor, Erva-Jean Stevens also participated in this meeting. This initiative was aimed at providing the Opposition Leader with an overview of the HIV epidemic in Jamaica and also to solicit his commitment.
The discussion focused on the major challenges faced by the Jamaican HIV response including access to prevention services by sexually active adolescents below the age of majority, human rights of men having sex with men and financial sustainability.
Holness expressed an eagerness to be a voice that advocates for the rights of young people in respect of HIV prevention, care, and support. He agreed with Somse that leaders need to have more than a cursory understanding of HIV issues and pledged his own commitment to keep abreast of issues so as to best represent the needs of young people in particular. On this point he pledged to appoint a task force to review the available information on young people and HIV to inform his actions. He expressed reservation in respect of offering contraceptives to adolescents in schools, but admitted that the Ministry of Education needed to collaborate with the Ministry of Health to ensure a comprehensive health package, focusing primarily on providing information including referrals.
Concerning the issue of homophobia in Jamaica and efforts to address it, Holness recommended a more balanced approach to prevent further stigmatisation, while Dr. Somse emphasised the need for officials to promote tolerance and a peaceful environment.
The UCC expressed appreciation for the opportunity to brief Mr. Holness on the state of the HIV epidemic in Jamaica and committed to sustaining a relationship with his office. Holness expressed his personal satisfaction with the meeting and shared his desire to continue collaborations with UNAIDS in respect of political advocacy, technical support, and strategic information.
Photo caption: Pierre Somse UNAIDS Country Coordinator for Jamaica (left) with Andrew Holness leader of the opposition Jamaica Labour Party (UNAIDS Jamaica)
Erva Jean Stevens UNAIDS Jamaica Monitoring and Evaluation Advisor (from left), Pierre Somse and Andrew Holness (UNAIDS Jamaica)