Wed | May 22, 2019

Poverty driving HIV vulnerability in the Caribbean

Published:Tuesday | June 12, 2018 | 12:00 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer

Poverty and the lack of educational opportunities are two major factors causing an increase in persons being vulnerable to contracting HIV across the Caribbean, according to Sannia Sutherland, the programme director at the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC).

"Poverty is one of the leading issues that increase vulnerability. If you are looking at the social determinants of health, as it relates to HIV ... that would be [among] the drivers. It could be that, similar to poverty, low educational attainment and sexual abuse contribute mightily to HIV vulnerability," she said.

Sutherland was speaking as a guest at a recent Gleaner Editors' Forum that looked at issues affecting the coalition as it attempts to carry out its mandate of attaining the 90-90-90 goal to be reached by 2020 as set out by the global community.

The goal is that by the year 2020, ninety per cent of all people living with HIV will have known their status; 90 per cent of all people diagnosed with HIV will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy, and 90 per cent of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will achieve viral suppression.

Sutherland noted that persons may become vulnerable in contracting the disease based on who they associate themselves with and that parenting also played a leading role. She suggested that if children were not properly monitored, they could fall prey to persons who have already contracted HIV and were, therefore, susceptible through sexual abuse.


"Persons could become vulnerable through association - how the person is parented and how they are not parented, the lack of support and opportunities given to them - and, of course, the lack of employment [are all] social determinants of health and health-seeking behaviour [that] lead to vulnerability," Sutherland said.

Sutherland also pointed to the combination of early sexual initiation and school dropout as prime factors contributing to many Jamaicans and Caribbean nationals becoming open to contracting HIV, which causes AIDS.

"The vulnerability in this context is about the decision making about sex. If you do not wear a condom, then you become vulnerable," said Sutherland.

Ivan Cruickshank, executive director at the CVC, agreed that increased vulnerability was as a result of low educational attainment and poverty.

"We see that some populations are most vulnerable due to their particular circumstances, whether it is poverty, whether it is their gender or gender identity, or whether it is the fact that they actually have less access to particular types of services because of marginalisation, stigma and discrimination," he said.

"So within the context of the development discourse, we have identified across the Caribbean these groups that we have dubbed 'vulnerable populations'," added Cruickshank.