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Government House Reception Underscores Regional Challenges Posed by AIDS Epidemic

Jan. 21, 2007 — Health professionals from around the Caribbean region gathered for a bit of social interaction at Government House on St. Croix this weekend before the start of the inaugural Caribbean Summit on HIV/AIDS.
"The Caribbean suffers tremendously when buffeted with natural disasters, terrorism, the scourge of drugs and now the pandemic of HIV/AIDS," said Ambassador Christopher R. Thomas, Inter-American Economic Council chairman. "The icons of our region have been drawn together for their wisdom and critical insights."
The summit, which began Sunday at the Buccaneer Hotel, would explore ways the Caribbean and the U.S. government could collaborate to bring added economic stability to a region which, on the whole has less resources to deal with a growing AIDS-affected population.
Saturday's reception was the first major event of the deJongh Administration, which rolled out the red carpet for ministers of Health and government officials from several Caribbean countries, including U.S. Congressman Donald Payne, a member of the International Relations Committee and founding member of the Friends of the Caribbean in Congress; and Delegate Donna M. Christensen, Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust chair.
A lavish buffet was presented as guests and visitors mixed and mingled in the Government House grand ballroom.
"United by the common challenges facing us with HIV/AIDS," Christensen said, "we can work together to solve our common problems." She thanked Gov. John deJongh Jr., his staff and the summit's gold sponsor, the Stanford Financial Group, for their assistance in organizing the event.
DeJongh said he was honored to host the social event. "Whatever we can do to foster relationships in the Caribbean, especially with St. Croix as the focal point, we will."
Sir George A. O. Alleyne, United Nations special envoy for HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean, said in regards to the epidemic in the Caribbean, "You could look at the glass as half empty or half full." He said several countries, such as Barbados and the Bahamas, have introduced "several programs that have showed positive results." However, he said, "Of great concern is the rising rate of infection in young women." Alleyne said the stigma of the disease makes it difficult for people to come forward, which helps to increase the rate of infection.
According to Haiti Minister of Health, Dr. Robert Auguste, Haiti has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS infections, second only to Africa. He said the cost of anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment is very high and that Haiti's goal is to increase the number of persons receiving treatment. "Presently we have 7,000 people being treated," Auguste said. "Our goal is 20,000. That would be good for us."
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