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World AIDS Day 2007 Message from Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism Honourable Edmund Bartlett, M.P.

KINGSTON, Jamaica – Every year since 1988 we have been ushering in the final month of the year in sober contemplation about a modern-day scourge which has wreaked havoc worldwide since its emergence.

Calendar events are more typically concerned with celebrations than with sober thoughts. However HIV/AIDS in not something we can ever afford to forget. In spite of the fervent work on public education, it is still a real and present danger.

According to UNAIDS estimates, there are now 33.2 million people living with HIV, including 2.5 million children. During 2007 some 2.5 million people became newly infected with the virus.

Around half of all people who become infected with HIV do so before they are 25 and are killed by AIDS before they are 35. Around 95% of people with HIV/AIDS live in developing nations. But HIV today is a threat to men, women and children on all continents around the world. In a very real sense – until all are safe, none is safe.

This year, under the leadership of UNAIDS, we continue the series of campaign slogans with the root message: “Stop AIDS: Keep the Promise”. This is an appeal to governments, policy makers and regional health authorities to ensure that they meet the many targets that have been set in the fight against HIV and AIDS, and especially the promise of universal access to HIV treatment, care, support and prevention services by 2010.

This campaign will run until 2010, with a related theme chosen for World AIDS Day each year. The 2007 theme, “leadership”, highlights the need for innovation, vision and perseverance in the face of the AIDS challenge. The campaign calls on all sectors of society such as families, communities and civil society organizations – rather than just governments – to take the initiative and provide leadership on AIDS.

Some might be wondering why, as Minister of Tourism I am taking the time to give a statement on a day dedicated to remembering what some might regard as simply a health issue. I encourage you to consider that HIV/AIDS is a people problem…as is tourism. It means there is a 100% overlap with our concerns. Let us not forget that although HIV/ AIDS might be a personal health issue in the narrowest sense – it is also a major social and economic issue as well.

Only this year, through the TPDCo., The Ministry of Tourism launched the workplace policy on HIV/AIDS for the sector. Yes, I hear you – Policies are too often viewed as no more than ‘frozen platitudes’ – documents articulating lofty goals and ideals, but carefully filed after tabling and discussion, and then ticked off the ‘to do’ list.

In the case of corporate policies on HIV and AIDS in the workplace, however, we do not have that luxury. Quite literally, they must be living documents. By this I mean they must not only be fully articulated in everyday actions, systems and structures, but as tools of preserving life.

It is what I would like to call a life-saving manifesto – not just protecting the dignity and physical welfare of individuals, but if rigorously applied, it will also safeguard our collective livelihood. This is why the Ministry of Health has taken the lead in identifying a cluster of key Ministries to champion the double pronged cause of HIV/AIDS prevention and stigma reduction. In this way, the Government of Jamaica has sought to catalyze discussions and hopefully definitive action at all levels, and taking into account all dimensions.

First of all, there is the basic truth that all economic value rests squarely upon the quality of human input. It is people who build industries and create value. If our employees and/colleagues are not healthy, or allowed to function at the optimal level that their state of health will allow – we are not just discriminating against that worker, but gradually undermining the whole economy.

In economies such as ours where tourism has been identified as one of the main drivers, we cannot afford to be ignorant, negligent, or anything but practical and positive about the management of our human resource. Although the establishment of hotels, villas, and affiliated attractions require significant outlays of capital, it is the human touch that makes the difference in this very labour intensive industry.

At the heart of good governance is the ability to facilitate not just multi-sectoral, but private-public sector partnerships. In this regard, I am also happy to note that the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association, the JHTA launched its own policy in November 2006.

We are happily not alone in this quest to focus on combating the disease within the hospitality sector. There are two encouraging examples that I wish to cite.

1. The International Hotel and Restaurant Association in conjunction with the UNAIDS produced a document titled – The Challenge of HIV/AIDS in the Workplace: A Guide for the Hospitality Industry – (1999 ). This guide gives information for hotels and restaurants of all sizes to develop their own HIV/Aids policies and awareness programs, and to help employees understand the causes and risks associated with this pandemic. It provides recommendations for creating an HIV policy for businesses, which amongst other essential issues include compliance with the laws and culture of the country and prevention of discrimination against people with HIV or AIDS.

2. In South Africa, The Gauteng Tourism Authority (GTA) AIDS Charter was developed by to underline the seriousness of the disease, and recognize the constitutional rights of citizens to dignity and privacy. The Charter aims to reduce the social, economic and developmental consequences of HIV/AIDS to the GTA and its stakeholders. As such it develops principles and program of action related to HIV/AIDS and the workplace.

Central to all HIV/AIDS workplace policies, as prescribed by the International Labour Organization is the principle of non-discrimination. As a natural corollary to this is stigma reduction – while the former tends to be more overt and actionable – the latter tends to be more insidious, and cannot be contained by legislation or policy.

This is where you and I come in. we need more role models to be advocates for HIV/AIDS stigma reduction. The Hoourable Prime Minister has already set the trend by getting tested, and I intend to do the same at some time in the near future as soon as my schedule allows it.

What about you? I challenge you to become a watchdog so as to secure our collective future – we are all neighbours, brothers and sisters, and the true test of civilization is our ability to look after each other.

Let’s unite to make HIV and AIDS history.

Here’s to One Love and LONG life!

Minister of Tourism Honourable Edmund Bartlett, M.P.

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