Sat | Dec 14, 2019

Caribbean makes significant strides in HIV reduction

Published:Friday | November 2, 2018 | 12:00 AMJodi-Ann Gilpin/Gleaner Writer
Dereck Springer (right), director of the Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV and AIDS, shares a moment with Sannia Southerland (centre), programme coordinator at the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities, and Dr Bernadette Theodore-Gandi, PAHO/WHO representative to Jamaica, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. The occasion was the Regional Meeting on Ending AIDS in the Caribbean, held at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel, New Kingston yesterday.

Dr Bernadette Theodore-Gandi believes that while the Caribbean has made significant strides in reducing the number of new HIV infections, more has to be done to improve access to treatment, as well as ensure that special attention is paid to vulnerable groups.

According to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) representative to Jamaica, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, statistics from the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) show that the Caribbean region has seen an 18 per cent reduction in new infections of HIV.

"There has also been a 23 per cent reduction in the number of AIDS-related deaths this year. The Caribbean region now meets the world in the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis. These are inspiring statistics," she said at the Regional Meeting on Ending AIDS in the Caribbean at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston yesterday.

The "inspiring statistics", however, are no excuse for complacency, Theodore-Gandi pointed out. She believes that a concerted effort must be made to improve collaboration and build partnerships within the Caribbean in order to end the epidemic.

"As we address the underlying factors which make people vulnerable to HIV infection, no person or group should be left behind," she said.

"One of the challenges that persist is accessing HIV services. While some 73 per cent of people living with HIV will be on the HIV status at the end of 2017, only 57 per cent will access antiretroviral treatment, and 40 per cent are virally suppressed."

As a result, Theodore-Gandi said special consideration must be given to vulnerable groups, such as men who have sex with men, sex workers, transgenders, and young people.