Chief Medical Officer Dr Shamdeo Persaud says that the steady fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Guyana has resulted in a drastic reduction in its prevalence.
He was speaking at the opening of the last stakeholders’ forum to finalise 2013 Guyana Country Progress Report on HIV/AIDS for submission to the Global UNAIDS Secretariat for the monitoring of targets set in the 2011 Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS.
“While Guyana still stands a little bit ahead of most neighbouring countries, with 1.2% prevalence in the general population, the Caribbean has actually achieved about 1% and Latin American countries 0.5%, there is still work to do,” he said. Dr Persaud also said that screening is vital for intervention and treatment and he commended the National AIDS Programme Secretariat (NAPS) for its work in this endeavour, according to a report from the Government Information Agency (GINA).
Monday’s meeting aimed at finalising Guyana’s document for submission to the Global UNAIDS Secretariat which contributes to the UN Secretary General’s report to the General Assembly, as well as the 2013 end of year report on the global AIDS epidemic. The 2011 Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS committed countries to, by 2015, halve sexual transmission of HIV and transmission among intravenous drug users, eliminate mother-to-child transmission, significantly reduce AIDS-related maternal deaths, halve tuberculosis deaths in people living with HIV, and put 15 million people living with the disease on antiretroviral drug therapy.
In addition, member states committed to accelerate research and development for a safe, affordable, effective, accessible vaccine and for a cure for HIV, as well as to deploy new biomedical interventions-such as microbicides, HIV treatment prophylaxis and early treatment as prevention as soon as they are validated. Countries are also expected to report annually on progress towards those aims.
NAPS Programme Director, Dr Shanti Singh asserted that the only way to address the existing challenges is to strengthen education programmes countrywide, including at the level of the workplace, among key target populations and among health care workers. She noted that the consequences of stigma and discrimination still remain.
Dr Singh said that the whole concept of treatment and prevention is premised on HIV-positive persons being able to access treatment to lower or suppress their viral-load to a point where the virus HIV becomes almost non-transmissible. The national fight against the disease is likely to be severely hampered as the continuance of stigma and discrimination is likely to hamper infected persons from seeking treatment, she said.
“The meeting was one in a series of many stakeholder meetings which saw the crafting of “many, many drafts before we got to this first draft that we are disseminating here today,” Dr Singh said.
Meanwhile, UNAIDS Guyana Country Coordinator Dr Roberto Campos said that in 2013 it was highlighted that the end of AIDS is possible, and this was determined as a scientific possibility. He urged that Guyana continues the fight with this aim in mind.
The Ministry of Health observed World AIDS Day in 2012 under the theme ‘Getting to Zero’ meaning “Zero new infections, zero discrimination, zero AIDS related deaths.” Guyana’s HIV fight began in the late 1980s as a daunting task but quick mobilisation of international partners, health services and NGOs determined the need for immediate action. This call to action showed results leaving several areas of focus for Guyana.
According to GINA, Guyana intends to report the elimination of mother-to-child transmission in 2015. The tireless work and by health personnel and others will ensure that no babies are born HIV infected. Secondly, persons living with HIV continue to access high quality services and high quality ARV medication which has resulted in persons living longer and healthier lives, and fewer deaths related to AIDS. Thirdly, new infections have continued to be reduced among the population as efforts are intensified in targeting the population at higher risk for HIV. Also, it has been noted that stigma against HIV-infected persons has lessened.
Guyana’s report will be presented to the United Nations General Assembly by September 2014.