Recently the Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV/AIDS (PANCAP) conducted research in the Caribbean, which found that the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) prevention response is inadequate in key populations.
According to the research, which was conducted between April and November of 2018, the Caribbean has made progress in responding to the HIV epidemic, but the impact of the prevention response has been inadequate, particularly among key populations.
Statistics provided by the organisation revealed that the annual number of new HIV infections among adults in the Caribbean declined by only 18 per cent from 2010 to 2017, from 19,000 to 15,000. However, the majority of the new HIV infections, which represented 68 per cent of the total population was accounted for by men who have sex with Men (MSM), Sex Workers (SWs) and their clients, transgender persons, and persons who use drugs, PANCAP disclosed. Notably, new infections among children also fell from about 2300 in 2010 to 1100. Although significant progress has been made in eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV, available data showed that HIV-infected pregnant women receiving Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) to reduce HIV transmission declined from 92 per cent in 2014 to 79 per cent in 2015 and 75 per cent in 2016 and 2017 respectively, illustrating a significant decrease that requires investigation.
Global leaders had signed up to the Sustainable Development Goals, with the aim of achieving universal health coverage (UHC) by 2030. The UHC framework now lies at the centre of all health programmes. To complement the global campaign the World Health Organisation says it will be seeking to highlight the need for all 36.7 million people living with HIV and those who are vulnerable and affected by the epidemic, to reach the goal of universal health coverage.
In the Caribbean region, we can boast of several successes in relation to our HIV response. Programmes to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission, reduce new HIV infections and treat people living with the virus have yielded encouraging results. Additionally, the Caribbean is the only developing region that has approached the near-universal coverage of antiretroviral medicines to prevent mother-to-child transmission. Some 75 per cent of pregnant women living with HIV now access treatment to prevent passing on the virus.
Here in Guyana, there was a steady decline in the number of new reported cases of HIV infection among a significantly higher number of persons coming forward to be tested, but in 2017 that changed when the country recorded an overall increase in HIV cases. According to statistics provided by the Public Health Ministry, in 2015 there were 705 cases, 855 in 2016, and a whopping 961 cases were confirmed in 2017. Region Four recorded the highest number of cases. Trailing Region Four was Region Three, Essequibo Islands-West Demerara, with 130 cases of HIV in 2017. For the same year, Region Eight, Potaro-Siparuni, was documented as the Region with the least number of cases, since a mere three persons were diagnosed with the virus there.
The Caribbean, including Guyana, cannot become complacent. In order to sustain the advances made, Governments and international donor partners need to put more money and effort towards ensuring that their HIV programmes can be sustained. For example, more needs to be done to address the prejudice and social inequities that operate to make some people, both more vulnerable to HIV infection and less likely to access prevention, testing, treatment and care services. Young people, men who have sex with men and sex workers are among the populations that need targeted investments and more protective environments through a combination of social dialogue and increased tolerance.
HIV continues to be a major global public health issue, having claimed more than 35 million lives. According to WHO, one million people died from HIV-related causes globally. There were approximately 36.7 million people living with HIV with 1.8 million people becoming newly infected globally.
According to WHO, it is estimated that currently only 70% of people with HIV know their status. To reach the target of 90%, an additional 7.5 million people need to access HIV testing services. While there is no cure for HIV infection, effective antiretroviral (ARV) drugs can control the virus and help prevent transmission so that people with HIV, and those at substantial risk, can enjoy healthy, long and productive lives. International development partners and governments must continue to do what is necessary to win the battle against HIV/AIDS.