Guyana will make HIV-related discrimination illegal, address needs of LGBTI community – President Irfaan Ali

In a landmark speech to a United Nations High-Level Meeting on HIV and AIDS on Tuesday, President Irfaan Ali declared that Guyana would make HIV-related discrimination illegal and address the needs of key populations.

Guyana looks to end AIDS as a public health threat in the next ten years.

President Ali said that Guyana would make discrimination against people with HIV “unacceptable, illegal, and punitive, throughout society, including Government, the private sector and civil society.”

He said that in the coming years, Guyana would strive to reach “vulnerable groups such as LGBTI (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex), sex workers and immigrants.”

The President said Guyana would focus on integrating mental health in all HIV policies and programmes and transforming the current paper-based HIV monitoring system into an IT-based system.

“The Government of Guyana is fully committed to providing universal access to prevention, care and treatment for everyone living with HIV or living under the threat of HIV infections,” the President stated.

He noted that Guyana’s HIV programme results are among the best in the Caribbean. A total of 95% of those living with HIV have been diagnosed. Seventy-three (73%) percent who are aware of their HIV status are on treatment and, almost nine out of every ten of these were virally suppressed.

He also noted that over the past 20 years, Guyana had reduced new HIV infections by more than half in Guyana. While impressive, like many countries around the world, we came close but missed the UN 2020 90-90-90 Targets. In the 2021-2025 period, Guyana is committed to reaching the new UNAIDS global 95-95-95 goal.

According to the President, Guyana has already embarked on a comprehensive Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis programme, ensuring that anyone, anywhere in Guyana, who is at risk of an HIV infection, can access Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis.

“Another innovative focus of our comprehensive response is increasing self-testing,” the President stated.

“We have already integrated testing, diagnosis and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases in our primary health care system. In addition, we are committed to the elimination of gonorrhoea and syphilis in our maternal population.”

See the President’s full speech below:


Distinguish Heads of State;

Other Distinguish Delegates;

When my country launched its HIV National Strategic Plan 2021-2025, we re-committed to the UNAIDS Global AIDS Strategy, which aspires to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.

The Government of Guyana is fully committed to providing universal access to prevention, care and treatment for everyone living with HIV or living under the threat of HIV infections.

Guyana’s HIV programme results are among the best in the Caribbean. A total of 95% of those living with HIV have been diagnosed. Seventy-three (73%) percent who are aware of their HIV status are on treatment and, almost nine out of every ten of these were virally suppressed.

Over the past 20 years, Guyana has reduced new HIV infections by more than half in Guyana. While impressive, like many countries around the world, we came close but missed the UN 2020 90-90-90 targets. In the 2021-2025 period, Guyana is committed to reaching the new UNAIDS global 95-95-95 goal.

Guyana has already embarked on a comprehensive Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis programme, ensuring that anyone, anywhere in Guyana, who is at risk of an HIV infection, can access Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis.

Another innovative focus of our comprehensive response is increasing self-testing. We have already integrated testing, diagnosis and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases in our primary health care system. In addition, we are committed to the elimination of gonorrhoea and syphilis in our maternal population.

Other key areas of focus in Guyana for the coming period include:

Making the discrimination of HIV unacceptable, illegal, and punitive, throughout society, including Government, the private sector and civil society;

Reaching vulnerable groups such as LGBTI, sex workers and immigrants;

Integrating mental health in all HIV policies and programmes and transforming the current paper-based HIV monitoring system into an IT-based system.

Guyana is keen on ensuring that these areas of focus are reflected in the 2021 Political Declaration.

Distinguished Delegates,

As we gather again for another High-Level Conference on HIV, as we observe the 25th anniversary of the formation of UNAIDS, the global inequity that facilitated AIDS to leave a trail of death for forty years is very much evident as we combat the COVID-19 pandemic. The truth is we still live in two very different worlds. COVID-19 vaccine inequity is a moral dilemma.

Our 2021 Political Declaration emanating out of this meeting must ensure funding for UNAIDS and the Global Fund.

This 2021 High-Level meeting must become a trigger for concerted and sustained action over the next decade to root out the conditions that contribute to and fuel the HIV pandemic.

I thank you.

US Govt. gives Guyana US$1.5M to support HIV fight

The United States Government has renewed its support towards the fight against HIV in Guyana with a grant of US$1.5 million geared at assisting the country in crossing the finish line in controlling the HIV epidemic here.

The grant is part of the US President Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), under which Guyana has already benefitted from some US$185 million for HIV prevention, testing, care, and treatment programmes since 2004.

Speaking at a press conference on Friday, US Ambassador to Guyana, Sarah-Ann Lynch, said the partnership between the two countries on the HIV epidemic has saved lives.

Ambassador Lynch noted that this new grant would support the Ministry of Health and civil society partners until September 2022 in their fight against HIV.

She noted that Guyana had made significant strides on this front, with over 90 per cent of persons living with HIV knowing their status, which is critical for them to have access to life-saving HIV treatment. However, in the same breath, she pointed out that much more needs to be done in the area of treatment.

“With treatment, individuals’ health can be sustained, and the levels of the virus can be reduced so low that the virus cannot be transmitted to others.

However, of every four individuals diagnosed, only three are on treatment. This is not enough – and lives are at stake. Therefore, our priority must be to increase treatment coverage, aiming to ensure that everyone diagnosed with HIV is immediately linked to life-saving treatment services. We believe strongly that services must be client-centred, meeting individuals where they are, with what they need. Our PEPFAR support will help strengthen this, including for the most vulnerable,” the US diplomat posited.

Against this backdrop, Health Minister Dr Frank Anthony reassured the US diplomat that this US$1.5 million grant would be injected into addressing HIV treatment and other critical areas, where efforts have been lagging due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have developed a strategy of introducing self-testing, and so we want to roll that out, and we’re going to do more on that to roll it out. But this is going to ensure that we get more people to test and to know their status… We are aiming to get more people into treatment, and therefore, we are going to work – using some of the resources from this grant – to get some of the people who were on treatment and fell off to get them back on treatment. And also, for some of the people who know their status but were not linked to treatment sites, we’ll be able to do some of that as well. So, we’ll be able to increase those numbers to get closer to the desired numbers that we’re looking for… but that’s going to take a lot of work,” the Minister posited.

Dr Anthony explained that another area they will be using this grant for is to ensure that those HIV persons on treatment become virally suppressed and unable to transmit the infection.

But the Health Minister noted that one of the challenges they have been facing is not being able to do viral loads for all the patients who need it. As such, he said monies would be directed into addressing the viral loads needs.

Additionally, efforts are also afoot to eliminate mother-to-child HIV transmission. He explained that there are still a few cases of HIV transmission from mothers to their unborn child, and one way they are looking to eliminate this by testing exposed babies with dry blood spots.

“For a number of years, Guyana was not able to do that properly, and so we are now introducing this process of dry blood spots. And this grant is also going to help us with that. We also have decided to provide PrEP (medicine people at risk take to prevent getting HIV) for all persons who want PrEP. Before, this was quite limited to discordant couples, so we want to now make sure that anyone who feels at risk could come into any one of our clinics and get PrEP. Again, we’re going to get some assistance through this grant,” Dr Anthony stated.

On this note, the Health Minister acknowledged that a lot of work has to be done for Guyana to achieve its 90-90-90 UNAIDS goal, which aims to ensure that 90 per cent of all people living with HIV will know their status, 90 per cent of all people diagnosed will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy (ART), and 90 per cent of all people receiving ART will have viral suppression, all by 2020.

However, Minister Anthony said because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Guyana could not achieve all three of the 90s.

“In terms of testing, getting people to know their status, about 93 per cent of those persons who have been tested know their status… We want 90 per cent of those patients who know their status to be on treatment, and unfortunately, when we look at our 2020 statistics, we only have about 74 per cent of those patients who have been on treatment. And of those who have been on treatment, we want at least 90 per cent of them to be virally suppressed, and in 2020, we’re seeing only about 69 per cent of those patients have been virally suppressed,” he noted.

The Minister further added, “So for us to really work to achieve the 90-90-90, and even to get to the 95-95-95 by 2025, there is still a lot of work to be done. And that’s why it’s so important that this grant is coming at this time… It is going to help us to focus on all three of these 90s and try to get us close to where we ought to be and even aspire to get to the 95s.”

Dr Anthony went on to laud the partnership between Guyana and the US because local capacity has been tremendously enhanced to fight against the HIV epidemic.

The Commonwealth of Dominica achieves EMTCT certification

The Caribbean has achieved another significant milestone in the fight to end AIDS.  The Commonwealth of Dominica was certified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for the Elimination of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV and Syphilis (EMTCT) in 2020.  The certification was granted following a thorough in-country validation assessment by the Regional Validation Committee, an independent body responsible for EMTCT certification.

Dominica joins six Caribbean countries that have been validated for EMTCT, including Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Montserrat and Saint Kitts and Nevis. In April 2015, Cuba became the first country in the World to achieve EMTCT validation and was recertified on 1 December 2017.

The Pan American Health Organisation/World Health Organisation (PAHO/WHO), the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and other regional stakeholders have extended congratulatory messages to Dominica on the achievement.

A virtual ceremony highlighting the country’s achievement is scheduled for 14 May 2021.  Key stakeholders from PAHO/WHO, UNAIDS and CARICOM, are expected to deliver remarks at the virtual event.

For more information on the certification ceremony, visit the PANCAP event web page here.  To register for the event, click here.

HIV self-test prices to be slashed in half in 135 countries

Poorer countries are set to see their access to HIV self-tests increase dramatically following a deal to slash prices in half and boost production, Unitaid said Wednesday.

The international health agency said it had closed a deal with US-based global healthcare company Viatris that will see blood-based HIV self-tests made available for under $2 across 135 low and middle-income countries.

HIV self-tests are seen as vital tools to help people more easily discover their status and move towards the treatment they need, and thus also to reducing the HIV burden globally.

This is particularly relevant in poorer countries, where concerns around stigma and difficulties accessing healthcare can create significant barriers, said Unitaid, which works on innovations on major diseases.

“Access to self-tests has been recognised as a key factor in meeting the global goal of 90% of people knowing their HIV status,” Unitaid spokesman Herve Verhoosel said in a statement.

In just the past six years, that rate has nearly doubled, from 45 to 81 percent, he said.

But achieving broader testing has been hampered by the fact that the market for HIV self-tests in low- and middle-income countries has been dominated by a single affordable oral HIV test, the OraSure.

That test is sold at cost in a limited number of poorer countries for $2, but elsewhere the price is higher, and other options have cost significantly more.

– Eight million unaware of status –

To try to fix that problem, Unitaid and US non-profit Population Services International (PSI) launched a call for proposals last July on ways to drive forward access to the tests.

The result was the Viatris deal, which Unitaid said should significantly expand the market and give countries more choice when it comes to self-tests.

This, Verhoosel said, would make “it easier to acquire the products and embed them in health systems, with the ultimate aim of helping the eight million people estimated to be unaware of their HIV status know they are infected and get treatment.”

Meg Doherty, who heads the World Health Organization’s global HIV, hepatitis and STI programmes, hailed “the wider availability of affordable HIV self-testing kits to increase access to testing.”

She said Wednesday’s announcement was timely at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic had in many places complicated access to a range of HIV services.

Self-testing allows “people to test when other options are difficult to access or restricted,” she said.

In addition to Viatris, Unitaid said another recently developed blood-based HIV self-test from US-based health care company Abbott Laboratories, which is currently undergoing regulatory review, would also be part of the expanded Unitaid programme, which would see around one million tests distributed “to stimulate in-country demand”.

Caribbean business leader nominated to UN HIV Task Force

Caribbean business leader and entrepreneur, Angela Lee Loy, has been selected from more than 500 nominations globally to be part of the Multi-Stakeholder Task Force for the 2021 United Nations High-Level Meeting on HIV. Ms Lee Loy is the lone private sector representative in a group comprised of civil society members from 16 countries.

The High-Level Meeting on HIV will be held virtually from 8–10 June 2021 and will review the progress made in reducing the impact of HIV 40 years since the first cases emerged. The General Assembly expects to adopt a new Political Declaration to guide the future direction of the response and bring the world closer to ending the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat as part of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

The role of the Multi-stakeholder Task Force is to ensure the involvement of civil society and an open, transparent and participatory process before and during the High-Level Meeting.

Ms Lee Loy, a Trinidad and Tobago national, is the Chairperson and Founder of Aegis Business Solutions Limited, the largest business outsourcing and advisory company in the English-speaking Caribbean and Chairman of Eve Anderson Recruitment Limited, the longest standing recruitment agency in the region. She is a Fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and has over forty years’ experience in auditing and business advisory services.

The former Chairperson of the Trinidad and Tobago National AIDS Coordinating Committee has an outstanding track record of public service. Among her current corporate social responsibility priorities are coordinating private sector support to provide meaningful employment for Venezuelan refugees, an international campaign to increase COVID-19 vaccine confidence and COVID-19 vaccine procurement for the Caribbean.

“I am honoured to represent the Caribbean on this Task Force,” Ms Lee Loy said. “In a context of dwindling donor funding for HIV in our region, it is critical that we speak up to shape a strategy that ensures our governments, health sector, private sector and people do not become complacent and lose hard-won gains.”

At the last High-Level Meeting on HIV the community of nations agreed to ambitious targets including ensuring 90% of people living with HIV are aware of their status, putting 90% of diagnosed people on antiretroviral therapy and achieving viral suppression among 90% of those on treatment by 2020.

By the end of 2019 77% of people living with HIV in the Caribbean were aware of their status. Four of five (81%) diagnosed Caribbean people were on treatment while 80% of them were virally suppressed. National, regional and global data for the year 2020 will be available soon but it is clear that the goals adopted in the 2016 Political Declaration were not met.

“In the Caribbean, as with the rest of the world, AIDS is unfinished business,” said Dr James Guwani, UNAIDS Caribbean Director. “Progress has been highly uneven. Stigma and discrimination and the marginalization and criminalization of entire communities continue to fuel the epidemic.”

Ms Lee Loy’s representation of the private sector on the Task Force underlines the critical importance of corporate engagement in the HIV response. Some Caribbean business entities and leaders have made key contributions. For example, since 2019 people living with HIV in Jamaica who are fully compliant with their treatment regime have been able to access life insurance coverage through Sagicor Life Jamaica.  Scotiabank, in conjunction with regional and international partners, has coordinated a Regional HIV Testing Day across 17 Caribbean countries for several years, starting in 2007.

“It is in corporations’ interest to secure the health of their workers and customers by updating their knowledge about HIV and playing an active role in eliminating stigma and discrimination,” Ms Lee Loy said. “We have the tools to end AIDS but we need to support people to prevent HIV, get tested and access treatment.”

In Your Hands: Caribbean partners call for HIV self-testing during COVID-19

Stakeholders of the Caribbean HIV response have launched the In Your Hands HIV self-testing campaign, which advocates for self-testing policies to be developed and implemented as part of a comprehensive strategy to ensure that HIV diagnosis does not decline during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even before COVID-19, the Caribbean was not on track to achieve the 90% testing target due at the end of 2020. In 2019, 77% of all people living with HIV in the Caribbean knew their HIV status. A survey conducted by the Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV and AIDS (PANCAP) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) showed that during 2020 facility- and community-based HIV testing services were reduced in 69% of countries due to COVID-19.

“This decline means that people with undiagnosed HIV are not getting life-saving antiretroviral treatment and, of course, continue to be unaware of their HIV status, with the risk of potentially exposing others,” said Sandra Jones, PAHO’s Technical Advisor for HIV/STI, TB & Viral Hepatitis in the Caribbean.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has presented the opportunity for us to explore new and innovative approaches that are result-oriented,” Rosmond Adams, the PANCAP Director, said.

According to James Guwani, the UNAIDS Caribbean Sub-Regional Office Director, it is particularly important to increase testing uptake among men, who are more likely to be diagnosed late. In 2019, 85% of Caribbean women living with HIV were aware of their HIV status, compared to just 72% of men. There is also a need to increase testing coverage among members of key populations who have reduced access to HIV services due to stigma and discrimination.

The World Health Organization recommends that HIV self-testing be offered as an additional approach to facility- and community-based services. Evidence shows that self-testing is safe and accurate and increases testing uptake among people who may not test otherwise.

Through the campaign, partners are advocating for national policies to include a communication package with information to link testers to HIV prevention and treatment services and minimum standards for the procurement and distribution of HIV self-testing kits in the private and public sectors.

“We strongly believe that HIV self-testing can help close the gap in the first 90. It can be targeted to individuals not being reached by existing HIV testing services, particularly those populations with low testing coverage and at high risk of HIV. It’s not a replacement for all testing services, but it should be included in the toolbox,” said Victoria Nibarger, the Caribbean Regional Programme Coordinator for the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

Under a Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria project for the region, work is underway to conduct verification and feasibility assessment to introduce HIV self-testing across countries. Already, Guyana has announced plans to roll out HIV self-testing this year, while several countries have either committed to developing policies or are now doing so.

UNAIDS is helping to coordinate the campaign in the Caribbean, focusing on supporting a knowledge management strategy that ensures all stakeholders have the information, messages and tools they need to lobby at the national level successfully. A key priority is ensuring civil society engagement and addressing community concerns about how self-testing policies will be implemented.

While representatives of communities of people living with HIV and key populations endorsed the call for HIV self-testing, they have advised that increased investments are needed in post-test counselling and adherence counselling for the entire HIV response.

Deneen Moore, a Caribbean representative of the International Community of Positive Women, said, “We need to improve peer navigation so that when people test positive, they have someone there to help them. We also need more social contracting so that civil society organizations can help reach people who test positive. There is definitely a need for us to be involved in the process.”

The advocacy initiative is jointly endorsed by UNAIDS, PAHO, PANCAP, PEPFAR and the Caribbean Med Labs Foundation.

UNAIDS Board adopts new global AIDS strategy which paves the way to end AIDS by 2030

GENEVA, 25 March 2021—The UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board (PCB) has adopted by consensus a new Global AIDS Strategy 2021–2026 to get every country and every community on track to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030. The strategy was adopted by the PCB during a special session, chaired by the Minister of Health of Namibia, held on 24 and 25 March 2021.

The Global AIDS Strategy 2021–2026, End Inequalities, End AIDSuses an inequalities lens to close the gaps preventing progress to end AIDS and sets out bold new targets and polices to be reached by 2025 to propel new energy and commitment to ending AIDS. The UNAIDS Secretariat and its 11 Cosponsors worked to develop the new strategy, which received inputs from more than 10 000 stakeholders from 160 countries.

“This year marks 40 years since the first cases of AIDS were reported and 25 years since the establishment of UNAIDS. We are at a critical moment in our historic effort to end AIDS,” said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS. “Like HIV before it, COVID-19 has shown that inequality kills. COVID-19 has widened existing inequalities that block progress to ending AIDS. That’s why I’m proud that our new strategy places tackling inequalities at its heart. We must seize this moment to ensure health equality for all in order to beat COVID-19 and end AIDS.”

The strategy puts people at the centre and aims to unite all countries, communities and partners across and beyond the HIV response to take prioritized action to transform health and life outcomes for people living with and affected by HIV. The three strategic priorities are to: (1) maximize equitable and equal access to comprehensive people-centred HIV services; (2) break down legal and societal barriers to achieving HIV outcomes; and (3) fully resource and sustain HIV responses and integrate them into systems for health, social protection and humanitarian settings.

“The World Health Organization is pleased to endorse the global AIDS strategy for the next five years, with its ambitious vision for ending gender inequalities and realizing human rights, including the right to health, calling upon all partners and stakeholders in the HIV response in every country to transform unequal gender norms and end stigma and discrimination,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization and chair of the UNAIDS Committee of Cosponsoring Organizations. “For this strategy to be fully realized, WHO will continue to support all countries to strengthen health systems and especially primary health care, on the road towards universal health coverage.”

If the targets and commitments in the strategy are achieved, the number of people who newly acquire HIV will decrease from 1.7 million in 2019 to less than 370 000 by 2025 and the number of people dying from AIDS-related illnesses will decrease from 690 000 in 2019 to less than 250 000 in 2025. The goal of eliminating new HIV infections among children will see the number of new HIV infections drop from 150 000 in 2019 to less than 22 000 in 2025.

“I applaud the joint efforts in the global AIDS response. At this critical point in efforts to end AIDS as a global health threat by 2030, I call on all countries to support this strategy to get the global AIDS response back on track,” said Kalumbi Shangula, Minister of Health of Namibia and PCB Chair.

HIV prevention for key and priority populations receives unprecedented urgency and focus in the strategy, which calls on countries to utilize the full potential of HIV prevention tools, especially for adolescent girls and young women in sub-Saharan Africa, sex workers, people who inject drugs, gay men and other men who have sex with men, transgender people and people in prison settings.

“The Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+) fully supports the Global AIDS Strategy 2021–2026. The strategy’s life-saving framework for ending inequalities is fundamental to ending the AIDS epidemic and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Alexandra Volgina, Program Manager, GNP+.

The strategy is based on human rights, gender equality and dignity, free from stigma and discrimination for all people living with and affected by HIV, and is the result of extensive analysis of HIV data and an inclusive process of consultation with countries, communities and partners.

Achieving the goals and targets of the new strategy will require annual HIV investments in low- and middle-income countries to rise to a peak of US$ 29 billion by 2025. The total resource needs for lower-income- and lower-middle-income countries is around US$ 13.7 billion. Donor resources are mainly needed for low-income and lower-middle-income countries, while in upper-middle-income countries, which account for 53% of the investments needed, domestic resources are the predominant source of funding.

For more information: End Inequalities. End AIDS. UNAIDS Global AIDS Strategy 2021-2026

PAHO Director warns of COVID-19 surge in the Americas

As COVAX delivers 2.2 million doses of vaccine and cases rise, situation is described as “an active public health emergency”. 

Washington, D.C. March 23, 2021 (PAHO)– Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Carissa F. Etienne applauded the arrival of over 2.2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines procured through COVAX but warned that the virus is surging dangerously in many countries in the region.

COVAX, the global alliance to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, has helped deliver over 2.2 million doses to the region so far, including more than 1 million doses that arrived in hard-hit Brazil on Sunday. More doses are expected to arrive this week in Suriname and Belize, and an additional 1.2 million doses have been procured through COVAX.

But “the COVID-19 virus is not receding, nor is the pandemic starting to go away,” Dr. Etienne warned in her weekly media briefing. “Vaccines are coming but they are still several months away for most people in our region,” she said, urging people to continue to respect public health measures – masks, hand washing, and social distancing – especially during upcoming holidays. “People cannot let down their guard by engaging in close contact with others.”

“Although scale-up has begun, we know it’s not enough,” she continued. “We do not yet have the vaccines we need to protect everyone. It’s what happens when the whole world must rely on too few manufacturers. We must also find ways to share vaccines more equitably among countries.”

As the recognized procurement agent for COVAX in Latin America and the Caribbean, PAHO’s Revolving Fund negotiates, purchases and handles shipment logistics on behalf of the 36 countries participating in COVAX.

In the past week, over 1.2 million people were infected with COVID-19 in the Americas, more than during the previous week, while 31,272 people died of the virus, Dr. Etienne reported.

The pandemic is particularly dire in South America, where infection is reported to be spiking in Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay.“In Paraguay, a majority of ICU beds are occupied, and the health system is buckling under the pressure,” Dr. Etienne said.

“The virus continues to surge dangerously across Brazil,” she continued. “Cases and deaths are increasing, and ICU bed occupancy is very high in many states.” In neighboring Venezuela, infection is on the rise, particularly in the border states of Bolivar and Amazonas. Bolivia has reported an increase in cases in the Pando department, while “ICU bed occupancy remains very high in Loreto, Peru.”

The pandemic is accelerating elsewhere in the Americas, including Guatemala, where increasing cases and hospitalizations are “straining hospital bed capacity due to the influx of patients,” Dr. Etienne said. In the Caribbean, cases are increasing in Cuba, Aruba, Curacao, and Antigua and Barbuda. In Jamaica, cases have risen steadily for several weeks. In Canada, Ontario state has reported increased cases in the last two weeks while the U.S. states of Minnesota and West Virginia have reported rising deaths.

“What I’ve just described is an active public health emergency,” Dr. Etienne said. “As the virus surges and hospitalizations rise,” she continued, “we urgently need to scale up vaccination among our most vulnerable populations.”

Over 155.8 million doses of the vaccine, including the COVAX deliveries, have been rolled out in the Americas, and in the Caribbean and Latin America immunization campaigns are underway in 33 of the 35 countries with support from PAHO. The organization is also assisting the two countries, Haiti and Cuba, that have yet to start immunization.

“The doses that were delivered are helping us start to protect health workers and other vulnerable communities, and we expect more doses to arrive every week,” Dr. Etienne said, reporting that acceptance of vaccines has been high. “These WHO-approved vaccines are safe, and they work,” she said. “When it’s your turn, don’t hesitate. Get vaccinated.”

Pointing out the Americas’ long history of successful immunization against polio, measles, flu, and yellow fever, she said, “once our supply increases, there is not another region in the world better prepared to deliver vaccines swiftly and safely,” she said. “Our health workers have special expertise driving large-scale vaccination campaigns that cover diverse geographies.”

“PAHO has been providing training and technical support to countries so they have stronger capacity to track adverse events, which will be critical as new vaccines are developed and introduced into the region,” she highlighted. “This is a remarkable achievement, and a credit to countries for making vaccination a priority and to health workers for their commitment to keeping our region safe.”

She also reminded countries of the upcoming March 24 World Tuberculosis Day, a global event to raise awareness about the devastating impact of TB and embrace the WHO goal of eliminating the disease by 2050.

“We need to uphold our commitments to reduce the burden of TB in our region and around the world,” she said. “If there’s one thing I hope we take from this pandemic, it’s an appreciation for the power of health – and how good health is central to the wellbeing of societies…. Equal access to good health. That should be our focus. That’s how we end TB. That’s how we beat COVID-19.”

PANCAP Launches Social Contracting Toolkit to boost HIV response during COVID-19

Wednesday, 24 February 2021 (PANCAP Coordinating Unit, CARICOM Secretariat): The Pan-Caribbean Partnership against HIV and AIDS (PANCAP), the mechanism that provides a structured and unified approach to the Caribbean’s response to the HIV epidemic, officially launched a toolkit for social contracting during a virtual event attended by key stakeholders from the Region’s HIV response including Government, civil society organisations (CSOs) and the CARICOM Secretariat.

Social contracting involves governments providing financial support for programmes, interventions and other activities implemented by civil society organisations. This is done to help prevent reductions and disruptions in targeted services for key and vulnerable populations (in particular) and contributes to more rapidly expanding effective HIV, Tuberculosis (TB) and Malaria responses.[1]

In remarks, Dr Rosmond Adams, Director, PANCAP highlighted that the toolkit is timely as COVID-19 threatens to undermine the gains made in the Region’s HIV response.  He explained that the toolkit aims to assist regional countries in developing and implementing a social contracting mechanism in partnership between governments and CSOs with recommended actions set out in a 4-stage process and examples of regional and international experiences to guide decision making.

“Collaboration between governments and civil society is critical particularly at a time where COVID-19 has placed a strain on the Region’s resources for responding to HIV”, stated Dr Adams, “we hope that this toolkit can foster more collaborations and partnerships between governments and CSOs to maintain the gains made in the HIV response”.

Ivan Cruickshank, Executive Director, Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC), stated that he endorsed the toolkit and welcomed the attention placed on the need for more partnerships between governments and CSOs.  “Civil society is the heart and the backbone of the Region’s HIV response,” stated the Executive Director, “they reach the most vulnerable who are in urgent need of access to health.  Governments need to recognise the tremendous value that CSOs bring to the response and work with them to reach those most affected by HIV.  I applaud this PANCAP initiative and hope that governments and CSOs seize the opportunity to use the toolkit to build strategic alliances that will benefit the most vulnerable”.

Veronica Cenac, the consultant responsible for the toolkit, highlighted that it contains guidance to countries and recommends a four (4) stage process for the implementation of social contracting in the Caribbean.  These include securing the Political Will of Government and CSOs, Readiness Assessment – Analysis of Legal and Regulatory Framework, Implementation Process, and a Roadmap for sustainability.  She emphasised that effective rollout of social contracting will require planning, ongoing advocacy, and collaboration between government and CSOs as they build partnerships to deliver HIV services.

Jason Shepherd, Senior Programme Officer, Caribbean Regional Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (CRN+), also endorsed the toolkit and echoed that governments and CSOs need to collaborate on HIV activities in light of the ongoing COVID-19 challenge.  “As we continue to navigate COVID-19, social contracting offers an effective solution for HIV programmes reaching those most at-risk for HIV”, stated Shepherd.

The PANCAP Toolkit for social contracting will be presented digitally to governments and CSOs across the Region.

– ENDS –

Timothy Austin
Senior Project Officer, Communications
PANCAP Coordinating Unit
CARICOM Secretariat
Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown, Guyana
Tel: (592) 222-0001-75, Ext. 3409  | Visit

[1] OSF, UNDP, GFATM, Social Contracting: working toward sustainable responses to HIV, TB and Malaria through government financing of programs implemented by civil society. Background Paper (2017)

UWIHARP promotes sexual health and well-being during COVID-19

The University of the West Indies HIV & AIDS Response Programme (UWIHARP) at the Cave Hill Campus repositioned outreach activities with the arrival of COVID-19 to the Caribbean. UWIHARP staff quickly transitioned ongoing programming to a virtual format and developed relevant content to promote sexual health and well-being during the pandemic response.

The Sexual Health Online Conversations About COVID-19 (SHOCC) included: Safe Sex and COVID-10, Mental Health, Sexual Well-being, and COVID-19, Sexual Health and Gender-Based Violence During Periods of Isolation, Pregnancy, Wellness, and COVID-19, Intimate Partner Violence against Women During the COVID-19 Crisis, Living with HIV During COVID-19: Testimonies from the Communities, Intersecting Pandemics: Experiences of Marginalised Populations during COVID-19.

Virtual programming increased the scope of UWIHARP’s reach significantly. The SHOCC sessions attracted over 544 participants across the Caribbean and internationally.  Dr Michael H. Campbell, PhD, Chair, UWIHARP—Cave Hill, Barbados, expressed gratitude to the UWIHARP staff members, including Monique Springer, Kileha Anderson, and Kelly-Ann Yarde, for putting together the innovative response.  He also thanked the content experts, community members, and allies who facilitated discussions.

SHOCC and other virtual outreach programmes continue during 2021. For more information, visit