BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Observer senior reporter email@example.com
WITH Jamaica set to lose financial backing from the Global Fund towards tackling HIV/AIDS, the Government has been courting other sources of funding to prevent a feared regression.
"We face another challenge with the impending removal of much of the external funding support for the National HIV Programme," Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson told the opening session of the Ministry of Health's Biennial Work Plan at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston yesterday.
According to a recent World Bank Sustainability Study of the Jamaican situation, an investment of US$3.2 billion will be required over the next 18 years to maintain the HIV prevalence at current levels of 1.7 per cent. "There is need to protect the most vulnerable in society and to maintain the levels of access to treatment and care that we have achieved. We will have to secure other means of funding if we do not wish to squander the investments that have already been made," the health minister said.
Speaking with the Jamaica Observer afterwards, Dr Ferguson said several approaches have been made to secure gap funding.
"We asked for help from PAHO (Pan American Health Organisation) as it relates to the sustainability of our HIV programme. The Global Fund comes to an end in 2013 and we believe it's very important how we go forward to protect the gains we have made over the last decade especially," the health minister explained.
"There is a strategic fund that PAHO now operates and it is our view that if we were to go that route then by virtue of the economy of scale we would be able to get better prices, we would be able to prequalify manufacturers or suppliers and we would have technical support going forward in one package," he added further.
He, however, insisted that Jamaica was in no way shifting all the weight to PAHO. "We are not saying we are leaning on PAHO alone. We are talking to everybody. I have been speaking to the World Health Organisation as well," Dr Ferguson said, noting that Jamaica is the only country in the world at present, set to be bumped from the funding list, that has embarked on a sustainability study with the support of the World Bank and UNAIDS.
"We are fortunate that as a country we have a document that is indicative of the transitional period," he said.
In the meantime, the health minister said the country has also applied to the Global Fund for other assistance.
"Even though formally it comes to an end in 2013 there are some options for 2013-14 and we have applied and we are waiting. It will not be to the extent that it was before where we had been benefiting from approximately US$8.1 billion annually towards anti-retrovirals," the Health Minister said.
Come June 2013, Jamaica will be classified as an upper middle-income country, and as a result the Government will be forced to find the funds to implement national programmes to tackle the deadly disease.
In the meantime, Ferguson said PAHO has been asked to assist with the Government's Electronic Medical Record System (Health Information System) among other things.
"We feel that is very important in how we go forward at this time and we have asked for help in terms of Millennium Development Goals 4 & 5 looking at infant and maternal mortality," he told the Observer.
PAHO's help has also been requested in terms of security in the health sector.
"We are getting some support as you know over the years we have had invasions of hospitals, health centres and PAHO is on board helping in how we go forward," Ferguson told the Observer.
"I have also asked for help in terms of the tobacco control legislation that is to come on stream we have asked for whatever expertise that is available," he added.
The workshop was held to present and discuss the Ministry of Health's biennial work plan and its collaboration with PAHO.