While I attended the Global Diaspora Forum in Washington, DC, there was another conference going on that focused on the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
One evening, I was fortunate enough to have dinner with the Trinidad and Tobago ambassador to the USA, Dr Neil Parsan, whom I had met the month before when we both were invited to speak on Capitol Hill. The dinner was arranged by Marlon Hill and Dr Claire Nelson.
He spoke at the conference and relayed some of his points to me that sounded an alarm in my head that has never gone off before. We had a subsequent call and e-mail exchange with the view of spreading the information more widely and seeing some result.
Few of my readers know that I have a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in Biology and minors in Chemistry and Religion. Originally I focused on genetics with the goal of curing some major problem, so this epidemic is important to me.
The Caribbean has over 240,000 cases of HIV and AIDS with the major countries being affected obviously amongst the larger ones, including Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba, and The Bahamas. In fact, about three per cent of the population of The Bahamas are living with HIV/AIDS.
In the Caribbean, the disease is mainly spread through the heterosexual populations.
As far as my research shows, there has been little in the way of a regional approach to this epidemic, even though many Caribbean countries share similar rates of exposure, similar growth patterns, political systems and economic linkages. There is also this small thing called Caricom that is supposed to be about regional integration.
In this case, "one-one cocoa" does not fill a basket. Individual islands approaching the epidemic simply will not work. There are economies of scale by combining efforts — financial, government, research, and so on — to achieve the same goals. No individual island in the Caribbean has enough money to address the issue on their own.
There really is strength in numbers and a regional approach is the only way to end the war on HIV/AIDS by stopping the spread. People in the Caribbean are mobile, especially in the Eastern Caribbean, and the free movement of people that is supposed to be a result of integration will make it even easier for the disease to spread from country to country, negating the work of any one individual island that is not replicated elsewhere.
The private sector must also get more involved because it requires a healthy population in order to hire from and to sell to. Sick people don't help productivity in any economy. The private sector is also important because it has knowledge and expertise in areas such as project management, capital allocation and accountability.
It can easily be a part of corporate social responsibility, which is now on the tip of the tongue of every senior executive who pays attention to what happens in the corporate world of developed countries.
Dr Parsan has suggested motivating and incentivising staff to "form anti-HIV/AIDS clubs and counselling services that can reach out to the communities, churches, schools and similar places to facilitate a public awareness campaign". I agree. Companies have a duty to give back to the populations that help generate their profits.
He also suggested that tax incentives be considered where the private sector capitalises testing centres, counselling services and public awareness campaigns.
I must thank Dr Parsan for bringing these facts and ideas to my attention to share with my readers. He is right, this means war. Now let's go fight.
David Mullings is chairman and CEO of Keystone Augusta and was the first Future Leaders representative for the USA on the Jamaica Diaspora Advisory Board. He can be found on Twitter at twitter.com/davidmullings and Facebook at facebook.com/InteractiveDialogue