Caribbean leaders ask Congress to expand AIDS initiative

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com June 07 2003 12:00 AM ET

Leaders of several Caribbean nations, concerned that the newly approved $15 billion global AIDS initiative covers only Haiti and Guyana, sent a letter this week to members of Congress asking them to consider expanding the measure to include 14 additional Caribbean nations, The Hartford [Conn.] Courant reports. The bill, signed last week by President Bush, applies only to the two Caribbean nations plus all African countries. The Caribbean leaders said that AIDS funding is needed throughout the region, which has the second-highest HIV incidence rate, trailing only sub-Saharan Africa. "Whatever happens in one specific corner of the region will have an impact in other places," Rafael Mazin, acting chief of the HIV/AIDS unit of the Pan American Health Organization, told the Courant.

Haiti has the region's highest HIV incidence rate, with more than one in 17 adults infected with the virus. Guyana is second with an overall 2.7% infection rate. But the infection rates in the Bahamas, Belize, the Dominican Republic, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago are all more than 2%, and yet none of those countries will receive AIDS assistance under the new federal program. Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) said he plans to ask Congress to consider the Caribbean leaders' request to expand the coverage of the initiative.