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UN Volunteer doctors mobilized to combat HIV/AIDS in Guyana

06 October 2005

Georgetown, Guyana: The first group of United Nations Volunteer (UNV) doctors have arrived in the capital of Guyana to help strengthen the country’s response to its growing HIV/AIDS epidemic.

The physicians – coming from India, Kenya, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Uganda, and Zambia – are in the Latin American country as part of a concerted effort by U.S. President George W. Bush’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Guyana offices of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UNV. Guyana is one of 15 countries part of PEPFAR and the first to involve UN Volunteers in the initiative.

U.S. President Bush created PEPFAR in 2003 to bolster HIV/AIDS prevention and mitigation programmes in the selected countries. The five-year, US $15-billion plan aims to support treatment for two million HIV-positive people, prevent seven million new HIV infections and provide care for 10 million people living with and/or affected by HIV/AIDS, including orphans and the vulnerable.

Ten UNV physicians will be part of the initiative. Five will work in regional hospitals outside of Georgetown with the remaining half stationed in clinics and hospitals in the capital. Some of the physicians are specialists in paediatrics, epidemiology and Antiretroviral therapy.

The initiative’s country-level partners – the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey – have established an induction programme to provide the UNV physicians with an overview of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the country.

According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS’ (UNAIDS) 2004 Report on the global AIDS epidemic, Guyana is among the most affected countries in the western hemisphere with an estimated adult HIV prevalence rate of 2.5 per cent. The epidemic is the leading cause of death among persons in the 25-44 year age group and the second leading cause of death overall.

In addition to strengthening health care delivery, the UNV physicians will promote volunteerism and raise awareness of the impact volunteers and their actions can have on contributing to the achievement of Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 6, which aims at halting the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015. The physicians will initiate various awareness activities on HIV/AIDS and hold medical outreach clinics in isolated communities with the support of community volunteers, including nurses and doctors.

The UNV Programme Officer in Guyana, Mr. Wilson Mondal, said UNV was selected as a partner with PEPFAR based on its reputation in the country and the success of a similar UNV health care initiative in Trinidad and Tobago where UNV physicians are helping address the country’s shortage of medical professionals. Since 1984, he said, UN Volunteers have contributed to the development of Guyana by serving in various ministries such as the Ministry of Health. He expects this new initiative will strengthen the relationship between UN Volunteers and the government, as well as enhance the partnership of UNV with new partners like the CDC.

Mr. Mondal said the U.S. Government will fund the UNV physicians for two years with the possibility of extending for an additional two. He added that the other PEPFAR countries are interested in replicating the initiative underway in Guyana.

In welcoming the UNV physicians, the United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, Mr. Youssef Mahmoud, said, “We are all in this country on a mission, [and] not just to do a job. Because of the challenges this country is facing in the battle against HIV/AIDS, we are here to serve, to learn and eventually to teach.”

UNV is administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)