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Ministerial Meeting in Jamaica Reaffirms Commitment to Sex Education and HIV Prevention

The second annual Ministerial Meeting on HIV and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) took place in Montego Bay, Jamaica June 4–6, 2009. This meeting was attended by Ministers of Health from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, representatives from civil society organizations, and representatives from key international agencies, including, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), and the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). The discussion was focused on four themes, including advances on the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and implications of the global financial crisis for HIV/AIDS and public health.[i]

Those gathered at the meeting sought to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the region within the context of broader development issues. Participants discussed the region’s priorities, highlighted recent progress made, and identified challenges to curbing the epidemic and reaching ambitious targets for treatment and care. This ministerial review was held in part to prepare for a global meeting later this year in Geneva.

At this meeting, both government and civil society representatives expressed strong support for comprehensive sex education as a fundamental element of the HIV-prevention strategy. Last August, just prior to the International AIDS meeting in Mexico City, many of the same Ministers of Health and Education attending this meeting, gathered and endorsed the Mexico City Ministerial Declaration, a landmark agreement committing their countries to begin reforms in the health and education sectors of their countries in order to institutionalize and sustain the delivery of comprehensive sex education.

The Mexico City Ministerial Declaration on Sex Education and HIV Prevention outlines ambitious targets.  One of the most critical goals stated in the Declaration is to increase the number of schools that provide comprehensive sex education by 75 percent by the year 2015. The Declaration focuses not only on sex education, but on sex education being the appropriate gateway and empowering mechanism through which young people access sexual and reproductive healthservices. Participants at the Jamaica meeting endorsed assembling a technical team to bring the promise of the Mexico City Declaration to fruition.  In line with this commitment, countries agreed to halve the current number of adolescents not covered by adequate reproductive and sexual health services.

To this extent, the meeting in Jamaica marks a transition point where the paper commitments of the Mexico City Declaration became concrete priorities reaffirmed by political leaders and given additional resonance across the region. It also marks the involvement of the UN system in seeking to magnify and support countries in Latin America and the Caribbean as they seek to fulfill their commitments.
 
Dr. Socorro Gross-Galiano, Assistant Director of the Pan American Sanitary Bureau, the body which serves as the Secretariat of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), argued that collaboration, coordination, mainstreaming sexuality education, and emphasizing the importance of “low cost” yet proven effective methods of HIV/AIDS treatment reaching local levels are all ways to protect advances made by the Latin American and Caribbean region in the advancement of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.[ii]
 
The Honourable Rudyard Spencer, Minister of Health in Jamaica, reflected on the support for social change needed to ensure the slowing or reversal of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Hon. Spencer warned, “We will continue to fail our peoples if the social and structural conditions of society remain the same. It is time for a social revolution in [Latin America and the Caribbean] that is built on the fundamental principle of human rights. It is time to move beyond technical solutions to confront the social determinants of health in [Latin American and the Caribbean].”
 
This policy update was adapted from a blog written by SIECUS Vice President for Public Policy, William A. Smith on RH Reality Check. To read the blog, please click here.  
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[i] “2009 Regional Ministerial Meeting On “HIV And Development In Latin America And The Caribbean”,” United Nations Economic and Social Council, accessed 9 June 2009, <http://www.un.org/ecosoc/newfunct/amr2009jamaica.shtml>
[ii]Gross-Galiano, Socorro. “Sustained Response to HIV: Financial Challenges.” Ministerial Meeting on HIV and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, Montego Bay, Jamaica. 4-6 June 2009.

 

 

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