UNAIDS Caribbean Regional Support Team ponders on the conversation at the anticipated Rio+20 Conference in the T&T Newsday
This week more than 120 Heads of State and Governments meet in Rio de Janeiro to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development. The original Rio conference 20 years ago spurred a heavy focus on the environment. But while that theme remains critical, some stakeholders make the case for a broader social focus. Director of the UNAIDS Caribbean Regional Support Team, Dr Ernest Massiah, wonders how the region will define its development agenda.
“Sustainability is not just economic or environmental. It is also social development,” said Massiah. “The focus is primarily on one angle but in reality the social, economic and environmental commitments must all be there. A key message for the Caribbean must be that there can be no sustainable development without health, human rights and gender equality.”
Poverty, environmental degradation, gender inequality, stigma, discrimination and social exclusion are all insidious threats to sustainability. For Pierre Somse, UNAIDS Country Coordinator for Jamaica, the Bahamas and Belize, one type of revolution relies on another.
“All those sustainability issues have one connector and it is social change. It has to do with what people think and value as well as how they do things differently. Poverty and environmental degradation increase people’s vulnerability and expose them even more to HIV. This is especially true of women and girls. The commitments and efforts have to be connected,” Somse insisted. “There is no other way.”
Social protection and human rights go to the heart of the well-being of individuals, families and communities. Continuing the agenda for more just and equitable societies improves and safeguards productivity and human security.
Health fundamentally matters. In the Americas, the Caribbean is most affected by the epidemic of chronic diseases. Almost half of the years our countries collectively lose due to ill health, disability and early death are linked to heart diseases, stroke, cancer and diabetes. AIDS remains the leading cause of death for men and women for precisely the span of a working life-ages 20 to 59. And although more people who need treatment are able to access it, in 2010 there were 12,000 new HIV infections. The region’s disease burden and bill aren’t getting smaller.
“The economic cost of these conditions is not sustainable. It undermines development and incurs a huge opportunity cost. Think of how much more we could do for education and infrastructure if there was a more solid commitment to assuring the health of Caribbean people,” Massiah asserted. Caribbean leaders have a direct stake in ensuring that the Rio+20 Declaration reflects a solid commitment to rights to health, gender equality and non-discrimination. It should include access to health as an essential element of sustainable development policy and as a measure of development progress.”
For more on this story see the T&T Newsday