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  • Mr. Dereck Springer, Director of the PANCAP Coordinating Unit
  • Dr. Shanti Singh-Anthony, National AIDS Programme Secretariat, Guyana
  • Dr. Benjamin Ali, UN AIDS
  • Dr. Donald T. Simeon, Deputy Executive Director of CARPHA
  • HIV/AIDS Programme Managers, Civil Society Representatives and Development Partners
  • Other specially invited guests
  • Members of the media
  • Ladies and gentlemen

Good morning.

The Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago welcomes you all to this meeting which is important to discussing regional information and updating managers and partners on national and regional commitments, progress on current global strategies, new guidelines and to identify innovative ways to strengthen and sustain the Caribbean regional HIV response.

Great ideas are often born from forums such as these where regional best practice is shared and refined to create new solutions. This forum presents the opportunity to think outside of the box, to look at models of care that embrace the most vulnerable within our generalised models of care. 

Role of the HIV and AIDS Coordinating Unit

HIV/AIDS is a major international epidemic with Trinidad and Tobago being at the forefront in the Caribbean region. It is the duty of the Ministry of Health to partner with various national and international organisations to ensure the effective eradication of the disease through educational programmes and to ensure the reduction of infection.

The HIV and AIDS Coordinating Unit (HACU), originally titled the National AIDS Programme (NAP) was established to effectively manage the National AIDS Programme in Trinidad and Tobago. The Unit, established under the Ministry of Health is responsible for:

  • Combining behavioural, biomedical and structural interventions;
  • Optimizing diagnosis, treatment, care and support outcomes;
  • Advocacy, human rights and an enabling environment for persons diagnosed with HIV/AIDS;
  • Providing strategic information in regards to HIV/AIDS; and
  • Managing policy and programmes related to the epidemic.

With these objectives in mind, HACU participates in collaborative activities with internal and external stakeholders to gather information about HIV/AIDS, inform the public of the risk factors which may lead to the contraction of the disease and to diminish misconceptions about persons living with the disease.

The Unit has been working towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals for HIV one of which is the eradication of mother to child transmission which has recently been achieved and we are awaiting the official declaration from PAHO/WHO. 

The Ministry of Health, through HACU is also working towards:

  • Increasing access to testing services;
  • Improving these services including providing quality assured diagnostic tools and establishing a comfortable environment to sustain personal needs;
  • Supporting linkage to care; and
  • Improving clinical and psychosocial services to patients.  

However, we cannot achieve these goals and objectives without your assistance. As professionals in the field, we urge you to continue to support the HIV and AIDS Coordinating Unit and by extension the Ministry of Health as we work towards achieving our goals established for HIV/AIDS.

The Role of the Interim HIV and AIDS Secretariat

The Interim HIV and AIDS Secretariat was developed under the purview of the Office of the Prime Minister to provide national leadership and coordination of the of the expanded national HIV response to ensure that the strategic directions of action plans of Ministries, NGO’s and Civil Societies were maintained to meet the the goals of reducing HIV /AIDS in our nation. This involved monitoring and evaluating reports from the said groups and collating information, as well as preparing reports for international agencies such as World Health Organization and Pan American Health Organization.

In addition, the purpose of the Secretariat was to utilize these reports and feedback from organizations to develop research, legislation and  training in the area of HIV/AIDS.

Justification for the Transfer of the National Co-ordination of the Multisectoral HIV response to the Office of the Prime Minister

Given the leadership role of the Interim HIV and AIDS Secretariat to coordinate a multisectoral mandate and to create a framework that will ensure the cooperation of all relevant stakeholders. Therefore, it has become necessary to move this agency back to the Office of the Prime Minister. This Secretariat was moved to the Ministry of Health where it has been unable to increase the awareness of the expanded response to HIV and AIDS at a national level.

Unfortunately, under the Ministry of Health this Secretariat experienced challenges relating to the timely approvals for activities including capacity building of NGOs and RHAs and psychosocial support for people living with HIV/AIDS; a shortage of drugs for treating patients and few decentralised treatment sites.

To strengthen the national multisectoral response and re-establish the governance of the national response would mean placing the Interim HIV and AIDS Secretariat under the purview of the Office of the Prime Minister. This would provide the response with the necessary prominence and make it a priority again on the national agenda and signal strong commitment to the national and international community.The multisectoral response through the national co-ordinating body should be a high level Cabinet appointed committee reporting directly to the Prime Minister whose role would be that of Chief Advocate and champion. Synergies could also be optimised in terms of accelerating the response in the Office of the Prime Minister which is also responsible for Tobago Affairs.

The aforementioned issues currently affecting the HIV Secretariat are better addressed within a mechanism which can effectively coordinate the main stakeholders involved in these areas and build their capacity for programme delivery and provide advocacy at the highest level of government.

PEPFAR and the Medical Research Foundation of Trinidad and Tobago

The Ministry of Health wishes to reaffirm its commitment to support stakeholders who are instrumental to the fight against HIV/AIDS in Trinidad and Tobago and the region.

  • PEPFAR (The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief is  an initiative to help save the lives of those affected by HIV/AIDS throughout the world. The organization’s project areas include prevention, strategic information and laboratory testing that will strengthen the response to HIV and AIDS.
  • Furthermore, a $5.8 million subvention was allocated to the Medical Research Foundation of Trinidad and Tobago (MRFTT). This organization is the largest and oldest HIV Treatment and Care site in Trinidad and Tobago, accounting for 55% of the national enrolled 8,061 HIV positive persons, who access medication and HIV treatment services through MRFTT. The functions of MRFTT are as follows:
  1. Basic administration of antiretroviral medication
  2. Molecular laboratory supports viral load testing to monitor effectiveness of treatment and assist in the diagnosis disease in infants and other difficult cases
  3. Assesses the drug resistance patterns of patients who fail therapy through collaboration with an external facility and monitor patients co-infected with opportunistic infections
  4. Collaborates with international institutions to monitor local population of natural viral suppressors

I look forward to learning of the contributions that will be made over the next two days and working with aligning the efforts of the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago to those of our Caribbean neighbours to increasing the level of care to those affected by HIV and AIDS.

Thank you.


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CMLF News Issue #7
27th January 2016