Challenges Remain but Some Progress in Caribbean Fight to Reduce HIV/AIDS

The disclosure was made at the recent UNAID sponsored meeting in Trinidad, that was attended by Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Sam Condor, who at the time was filling in for Prime Minister Dr. Denzil Douglas, the CARICOM lead spokesman on health issues.

According to Trinidad’s Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister, Rodger Samuel, there is also still much resistance for Caribbean men to use condoms, and people generally, remain hesitant to access HIV treatment and care. Samuel said that “The old approaches do not seem to be working, especially with the new generation. If we do not get our youth involved, ‘getting to zero’ will be an immensely hard task.”

However, though setbacks have been experienced, said participants at the meeting, important progress in the region has been made to date, including a 43 percent reduction in AIDS-related mortality between 2001 and 2008, and an 18 percent reduction in new HIV infections among children during the same time period.

There has been significant expansion of programmes to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission of HIV, with four countries that reaching 95 percent coverage.

But stigma and discrimination, homophobia and a punitive legal environment continue to undermine efforts to reach universal access goals towards HIV prevention, treatment, care and support across the Caribbean.Minister-Condor-at-UNAIDS-Conference

There are 11 countries in the region that criminalize sex between people of the same sex, and 13 that criminalize sex work. Five countries, territories and areas continue to impose restrictions on the entry, stay and residence of people living with HIV.

There are an estimated 260 000 people living with HIV in the Caribbean. Close to half of people in need of antiretroviral treatment are receiving it. Overall, HIV now affects more women than men in the region. However, there is considerable variation between countries.

For example, 60 percent of people living with HIV in the Bahamas are women. But in

Cuba and Suriname, 69 percent of people living with HIV are men. AIDS remains the leading cause of death in people aged 20-59 years old.

“The HIV response shines a spotlight on inequality and violations of human rights, and compels us to act,” said Ms Beagle. “We must remove punitive laws that are blocking access to critical HIV services. The law should work for the HIV response, not against it.”

Participants also discussed the need to increase investment in stigma and discrimination reduction programmes to secure the rights of people living with HIV. Ainsley Reid, Coordinator for the Greater Involvement of People Living with HIV, Jamaica, underscored this by highlighting that “people living with HIV need more than medicines.”

“I know people who have died with the medicines in their hands. What we really need is social protection, including food, employment, housing, etc. This is what it takes to move beyond ‘victim mode’ and have empowerment and meaningful involvement,” he added.

Representatives from St. Kitts and Nevis were among government, civil society, people living with HIV, UN agencies and development partners from across the Caribbean, who  attended the meeting, to review progress made towards achieving universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support targets.

According to UNAIDS, the two-day meeting held from 23-24 March was convened by UNAIDS in collaboration with partners in the lead up to the UN High Level Meeting on AIDS, which will take place in June 2011.


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