Minister of Health the Hon. Kim Wilson JP, MP, concerning World Aid Day and the Day of Persons with Disabilities
I rise today to highlight to this Honourable House and the listening public two highly relevant observances internationally and in Bermuda:
World AIDS Day, and
The International Day for Persons with Disabilities.
Mr Speaker, World AIDS day is observed globally today, on 1st December. It is an important occasion for us to take note of the great strides Bermuda has made, but remember that HIV has not gone away and I am proud that the Department of Health continues to advance public awareness and education so that younger generations continue to be aware of the risks, and be sensitive to the needs of those affected.
In Bermuda, there are currently over 300 people living with HIV. Two thirds are between the ages of 45-64; three quarters are male, and 4 out of 5 are Bermudian.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend that everyone get tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care. Knowing one’s HIV status, and early diagnosis, are important to maintain health and reduce the spread of the virus.
Mr Speaker, preventive measures such as this have made it possible for Bermuda to have had no mother‐to‐child transmissions of HIV for two decades. Indeed, last August the World Health Organization (WHO), in conjunction with the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), declared that Bermuda has eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis. Bermuda joined what at that time was a very short list of just five other countries worldwide to have achieved this goal to date. It is, indeed, a great accomplishment and I know this Honourable House will join me in congratulating the dedicated Department of Health staff and our healthcare partners in this great achievement, especially today, on World AIDS Day.
In addition, Mr Speaker, Bermuda has also achieved drastic declines in the number of cases reported as being transmitted through injection drug use. Indeed, fewer than 10 new HIV infections have been reported each year since 2011, with all reporting sexual contact as the mode of transmission. While this is good news, the number has remained static, and we all want to see that number declining.
Mr Speaker, to celebrate and honour World AIDS Day, today at 12.30pm the Department of Health will hold their last “Move More Dance Walk” for 2017. The Dance Walk will start at the Ministry of Health headquarters and the public is invited to wear red in support of those living with HIV/AIDS. In addition, Mr Speaker, the Department is hosting an observance at City Hall at 5:30 pm today, to which the public is invited.
We also invite the public to tune in to CITV tonight at 9:00 pm for the premiere of “HIV/AIDS in Bermuda: A look back at how much things have changed over the last 35 years for persons living with HIV/AIDS”. The programme will feature interviews with the healthcare professionals and community advocates who were there at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic and the work that continues in ending the AIDS epidemic.
Just as important, Mr Speaker, is the International Day of Disabled Persons, which is proclaimed annually by the United Nations on 3rd December. This important observance aims to increase awareness and promote the rights of persons with disabilities. These issues are as meaningful in Bermuda as in larger jurisdictions, as the well-being of affected individuals and their families is impacted in all spheres of society. It is important to continue to advance the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of life.
Mr Speaker, this year, the international theme is “Transformation towards a sustainable and resilient society for all”, a theme that speaks to the broader goal to ‘leave no one behind’. Bermuda will celebrate its contribution towards this noble goal between today and Monday 4th by highlighting some of the issues faced by persons with disabilities, and how persons with disabilities can be both beneficiaries and agents of change towards a more inclusive society for all.
To celebrate this observance, local businesses will be highlighted for providing meaningful employment with full benefits for persons with disabilities. Additionally, organizations that have made accessible changes to their buildings to ensure their facilities are readily accessible, usable, and barrier-free will be recognized as well. An accessibly designed environment taking into account the needs of all its users will remain imperative in the future as well.
Ultimately, Mr Speaker, we will not transform our society by continuing to do what we’ve always done. So Bermuda needs a mind-set change to refocus our attention on ability, rather than disability. Given Bermuda’s scarce resources – especially human resources – it is essential that we ensure that all of our people can make a contribution to society. We must not limit ourselves by putting barriers and restrictions in front of people. What we must do is to strive towards inclusion for all.
Mr Speaker, part of Bermuda’s journey to become a society that is more sustainable and resilient, must include a willingness and ability to embrace diversity in all forms, including physical and intellectual disabilities. So I invite my Honourable Colleagues to take note of this day and pay homage to the many contributions to Bermuda’s prosperity by persons with disabilities from all walks of life.
Thank you Mr Speaker