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Needless delays for official Aids effort
On Tuesday, Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Rodger Samuel launched the Interim HIV/Aids Agency. Cabinet approved the formation of the two-year project to provide co-ordination to the strategic response to HIV/Aids while awaiting legislation to establish the National Aids Co-ordinating Committee (NACC) as a statutory body.
In March 2011, a seven-year-old incarnation of the NACC, also operating within the Office of the Prime Minister, came to the end of its contractual term. Since then, there has been no formal agency responsible for coordinating the government’s mandate to manage HIV/Aids. The void that NGOs warned of when the NACC allowed to dissolve wasn’t satisfactorily addressed until last week, a lapse that’s unforgiveable given this country’s prior commitment at the highest levels of governance to managing HIV/Aids.
In July 2012, Diego Martin Central MP Dr Amery Browne, the former technical director of the NACC, warned the government of “the abysmal judgment that was demonstrated in dismantling what was there previously, in advance of any adequate replacement.” It’s unclear what the government was thinking over the last two years since it let the NACC’s role lapse without any functional replacement.
Perhaps there was some sense that the availability of free retrovirals paired with common sense would drive the management of the virus on autopilot. But any casual review of the operations of the NACC would have made it clear that the most critical mission in HIV/Aids management and control remains education, the continuous sharing of information in engaging, and relevant ways to snare the attention of the young people most at risk of becoming infected.
The government’s formal policy on managing the virus clearly remained unchanged during the two-year absence of the NACC, but there was no official state agency available to promote that commitment. No formal presence making it clear that the services and medication being offered represented a government that had put its weight behind critical issues like Aids sensitisation and workplace equality for persons living with the virus.
These aren’t matters that can just be read as assumed. They require constant reinforcement and reframing to ensure they constitute an organised and coherent campaign of governmental oversight. There was no reason not to ensure continuity of work and preservation of the institutional knowledge that the NACC had earned over its seven-year life through a more measured replacement of personnel.
The Government might even have earned some measure of respect for ensuring that the NACC’s operations were more NGO than politic, reengineering it as an enterprise with fewer political ambitions and more focus on the people it was created to help.
The new HIV/Aids Agency is said to be an interim project. There’s time then to design and implement a proper institution to manage the government’s stated policies on managing the virus, putting more distance between the expedience of politics and the real and ongoing demands of managing HIV/Aids.
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