Sharp drop in new HIV infections but prejudice still among region’s major obstacles

-UNAIDS report

The Caribbean region has seen the sharpest reduction in new HIV infections since 2001 at 49% but discrimination, limited access to treatment for vulnerable groups and violence against women, which is a key factor in vulnerability to the virus, are hampering national responses.

This is according to a new report from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), which has found “dramatic acceleration” globally in reaching 2015 Millennium Development Goals on HIV.

According to a release from UNAIDS Caribbean, two years ahead of the deadline, the Caribbean has been found to have made significant progress in meeting targets, which include reducing sexual transmission, eliminating new infections in children, increasing treatment access, eliminating gender equalities, stigma and discrimination and closing the resource gap.

“The annual numbers of new infections continue to decline,” it said, while noting that the region has experienced the sharpest reduction in new infections since 2001(49%). “Caribbean coverage of services to prevent HV transmission from pregnant women to their children is among the highest in the world at more than 90%. Additionally, the region continues to have one of the highest rates of antiretroviral treatment coverage (72%),” it added.

Comparatively, new global HIV infections among adults and children were estimated at 2.3 million in 2012, a 33% reduction since 2001, according to the report.

It also noted that new HIV infections among children have been reduced to 260 000 in 2012, a reduction of 52% since 2001 and that AIDS-related deaths have also dropped by 30% since the peak in 2005 as access to antiretroviral treatment expands— pointing to an acceleration towards reaching 2015 global targets on HIV.

 

‘Urgent attention’

The report, however, notes that in order to accelerate progress to 2015 and beyond certain issues, such as ensuring the respect of human rights, access to treatment by at risk groups and preventing violence against women, need “urgent attention.”

“Gender inequality, punitive laws and discriminatory actions are continuing to hamper national responses to HIV and concerted efforts are needed to address these persistent obstacles to the scale up of HIV services to the people most in need,” the release said.

UNAIDS Caribbean Regional Support Team Director Dr Ernest Massiah was quoted as saying that the region is making progress but is still battling prejudice. “We can get to zero new cases of HIV, zero AIDS-related deaths and zero stigma and discrimination, if we learn to talk about sex and sexuality and refuse to discriminate because of difference,” he noted.

World leaders will meet during the 68th session of the UN Assembly to review progress towards the MDGs. In 2000, UN nations agreed to work towards, a ten targets aimed at halting and beginning to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS as well as achieve universal access to treatment.

The report states that currently 7,200 persons are living with HIV in Guyana but it did not state the amount of persons newly infected with the virus. It gave the number of people who died from AAIDS-related illnesses at less than 100.

However at a stakeholder dissemination meeting held at the Cara Lodge, in late August of this year, where Guyana’s HIV estimates for 2012 were presented, Head of the National AIDS Programme Secretariat (NAPS) Dr Shanti Singh said that the number of persons that will be newly affected by HIV this year is estimated at less than 500. Miners, loggers and both male and female sex workers were listed at being at a higher risk of contracting the virus. Male sex workers, however, continue to be a challenge as while the numbers have been reduced for female sex workers, males have increased.

It was at that forum that NAPS stated that the organisation believes that while the prevalence of HIV in adult Guyanese increased marginally, from 1.1% in 2001 to 1.3% in 2012 was because infected persons are living longer lives.

Singh had also pointed out that it was in 1998 when voluntary testing and counseling commenced and from then through 2008 there has been a mixed trend in HIV diagnoses, with increases in some years and reductions in others. She said that there was a peak in 2006, recording more than 1,200 infections but from 2009 through 2012, there has been a continuing reduction in new cases both for HIV as well as AIDS.

Estimated annual AIDS deaths have been reduced to less than 100 in 2012 compared to less than 500 in 2011.The decrease can also be attributed to the fact that the Guyanese populace has universal access to free treatment of the disease.

The report says that in order to accelerate progress beyond the 2015 target, human rights issues and prejudices experienced by persons infected needs to urgently be addressed.

“Not only can we meet the 2015 target of 15 million people on HIV treatment—we must also go beyond and have the vision and commitment to ensure no one is left behind,”  Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS is quoted as saying.

A major challenge that countries, especially those in the Caribbean, will face in combating HIV is funding.

“Another key challenge for all HIV responses in the Caribbean is how prevention care and treatment services will be funded in the future given the widespread slowdowns in economic growth and an overall reduction in donor funding for the region,” UNAIDS states, while pointing out that Guyana was among other countries that is highly dependent on external financing for treatment.