Caribbean observing World AIDS Day
Caribbean counties are joining the global community on Friday in observing World AIDS Day with the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) highlighting the key role of communities and civil society in the provision of HIV information and services, such as testing, prevention and treatment, in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC).
In Latin America and the Caribbean around 2.5 million people live with HIV. In 2022, about 130,000 people acquired the virus and 33,000 lost their lives from AIDS-related causes.
“We must recognise the fundamental part that communities play in accelerating the HIV response,” said PAHO Director, Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, PAHO Director said, adding “today, let us renew our commitment and support for community leadership as we work together to eliminate AIDS in the region of the Americas”.
World AIDS Day is being observed under the theme “Let Communities Lead” and PHO said it emphasises the role that organisations led by people most disproportionately affected by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) play in the response to this four-decade epidemic.
“We are on the home stretch when it comes to ending AIDS as a public health challenge, but we will only achieve this goal if we empower the most affected communities that are being left behind,” Luisa Cabal, Regional Director of UNAIDS for Latin America and the Caribbean said. “Community leadership is essential in all HIV plans and programmes, which must also have financing and protective regulations for their operation.”
To support the expansion of services to key populations and people living with HIV, PAHO and UNAIDS launched the “I am key” initiative in eleven countries in the region, leading to strengthened partnerships with communities and civil society to support an accelerated response and people-centred service models.
It is essential that communities are empowered to develop their own strategies and reach those who need it most with information, HIV self-testing, antiretrovirals as a method of prevention (known as PrEP), and treatment to reach an undetectable viral load and break the chain of transmission.
As spaces free of stigma and discrimination, services led by community groups also increase acceptance and retention in care for gays and men who have sex with men, sex workers, trans people, and drug users – populations considered key in the response to HIV and among whom the highest number of new infections are reported.
PAHO said advances in medicine and public health have allowed rapid diagnosis and methods for combined prevention and effective treatment against the virus. It said a person with HIV who adheres to treatment no longer transmits the virus, and a healthy person who takes PrEP has 99% protection against HIV.
The region has also made great efforts to advance the implementation of PrEP, which is reflected in an increase in the number of countries with public health policies on PrEP and its greater availability. However, the number of people receiving it needs to be rapidly increased to prevent new cases of HIV.
Disseminating information to communities can support an increased demand for PrEP, especially among those at highest risk of exposure. Additionally, through the PAHO Strategic Fund, countries in the Americas can purchase PrEP at affordable prices, a fundamental support given the limited resources of some health ministries.
Meanwhile, UNAIDS said that the world can end AIDS, with communities leading the way. “Organisations of communities living with, at risk of, or affected by HIV are the frontline of progress in the HIV response. Communities connect people with person-centred public health services, build trust, innovate, monitor implementation of policies and services, and hold providers accountable,” UNAIDS said.
But it acknowledged that communities are being held back in their leadership. Funding shortages, policy and regulatory hurdles, capacity constraints, and crackdowns on civil society and on the human rights of marginalised communities, are obstructing the progress of HIV prevention and treatment services. If these obstacles are removed, community-led organisations can add even greater impetus to the global HIV response, advancing progress towards the end of AIDS.
“This World AIDS Day is more than a celebration of the achievements of communities; it is a call to action to enable and support communities in their leadership roles. World AIDS Day 2023 will highlight that to unleash the full potential of community leadership to enable the end of AIDS,” UNAIDS added.
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