UNICEF Gears at Partnering with Guyana Government and People for AIDS-Free Generation

The Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) with the support of the USASID Advancing Partners and Communities (APC) - Guyana Project held a Children’s Rights Workshop last Friday commemorating International Human Rights Day 2015 which was held under the theme, “Our Rights. Our Freedoms. Always.” This workshop, which was attended by representatives of nearly thirty Civil Society Organisations focused on the rights and issues affecting orphans and other vulnerable children (OVC) in Guyana.
Noting that stigma and discrimination against persons living with HIV has decreased in Guyana, UNICEF’s Resident  Representative to Guyana and Suriname, Marianne Flach noted that her organisation will continuously support the Government and People of Guyana in their efforts to combat the virus that has threatened and taken the lives of millions globally. “Love, respect and dignity are essential to achieving an AIDS free generation, unfortunately for many people living with HIV, stigma and discrimination persist despite global efforts to reduce the burden for those affected by this disease. In many instances, children are usually the ones who are disproportionately affected.”
Head of UNICEF, Marianne Flach, delivering special remarks to open the Workshop (Photo credit: Theresa Campbell, APC)
Addressing a gathering of thirty Civil Society Organisations at a Children’s Rights Workshop hosted by SASOD in collaboration with the USAID’s Advancing Partners and Communities (APC) Project at the APC’s Georgetown office Friday last, Flach focused her speech on the vulnerability of women and children. Sensitive, child-friendly services she said are needed to protect treat and respond to children affected by HIV, this she opined is absolutely critical.
Twenty-five children globally still acquire HIV every hour despite the majority of pregnant women in low and middle income countries living with the virus are receiving treatment to remain healthy and to avoid transmitting HIV to their babies – this prevents 1.3 million new infections among children since the millennium year. UNICEF, she said is actively supporting the Ministry of Public Health to reduce and prevent mother-to-child transmission. Current and future projects she revealed are the integration of HIV education and care into maternal, new-born, child and adolescent health services; support of male partner involvement, and case tracking management systems, and ensuring that all babies, children, and their mothers are able to access healthcare and information, particularly  life-saving HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.
Guyana is in the validation process towards eliminating mother-to-child transmission of the HIV. Flach also noted that the Caribbean region may be the first region to eliminate this form of transmission and this is a promising development and exciting achievement to look forward to.
She expressed that children who have been made vulnerable by HIV can live difficult lives especially when they encounter various forms of violence and discrimination; these ills can prevent them from going to school, being social, and from generally enjoying their human rights. “Systems must be established and strengthened to protect and promote their [children’s] rights, and to ensure that they can grow up healthy and lead productive lives.”
Participants at SASOD’s Children’s Rights Workshop (Photo credit: Theresa Campbell, APC)
The Representative posited that comprehensive health and family life education, youth friendly services and general social support can greatly reduce the spread of HIV. A recently conducted research on HIV among Young Key Affected Populations in Guyana revealed, according to her, that children and young people are requesting more information on sexuality and because of this UNICEF is pushing for comprehensive sexuality education in schools. Flach noted with concern that the age of consent in Guyana is set at sixteen years which requires the authorisation of parents of sexually active adolescents to have an HIV test which is a prohibitive factor for them accessing healthcare services; despite this, many structured programmes for adolescents have been established with UNICEF’s support to offer education and services across the country.
“We must not forget the link between sexual violence and HIV, given the almost daily reports of violence perpetrated against women and children. Ending violence will have an impact on preventing sexually transmitted infections and curbing the spread of HIV, especially if the perpetrator is HIV positive” Flach said.