People Living with HIV urged to get vaccinated against COVID-19

Dr Frank Anthony, Minister of Health, Guyana, urges Persons Living with HIV to protect themselves against COVID-19 by getting vaccinated.

During the COVID-19 update on Monday, Minister Anthony noted that this is important because the immune system of a Person Living with HIV is more susceptible to the virus, especially if that person is not on medication.

“It is recommended that persons with HIV take the COVID-19 vaccine because it’s going to protect them. The benefits of being vaccinated far outweigh the risk of being vaccinated. In some cases, persons whose immune systems are compromised, some of those patients it’s also recommended that they get a third dose of the vaccine or a booster shot,” Dr Anthony said.

He said persons could use any of the vaccines available in Guyana, which are being used for the adult population. These include the Johnson and Johnson, Sputnik V, Sinopharm, or Astra Zeneca.

The minister noted that persons currently taking ARVs (antiretrovirals) or PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) should not worry about adverse effects of the vaccine, as these work differently in the body.

“The mechanism of action are totally different; vaccines help to stimulate the immune system so that your body can produce antibodies that can fight off COVID-19 virus. Antiretrovirals -they work differently, they interrupt the life cycle of the HIV and therefore their actions are totally different, and there is no interaction between the two,” Dr Anthony explained.

Persons with HIV are advised to follow the recommended protocols as the general population to guard against contracting the disease. These include wearing masks, proper hand sanitisation and social distancing.

“There are lots of hesitancy among the HIV population, they probably have various myths about why they shouldn’t be vaccinated, but all the evidence is pointing that they need to be vaccinated,” the minister said.

Up to 2019, the estimated number of People Living with HIV in Guyana numbered over eight thousand.

Meanwhile, for COVID-19 infections, the health ministry reports some 3,907 active cases, with 59 new cases recorded in the last 24 hours. The data also shows a slight decrease of cases in Region Four, with increases in Regions Two, Three and Ten.

There are 107 persons in hospitals across the country, with 72 of those persons currently at the Ocean View Hospital, 24 of which are in the ICU. Six are maternal cases.

Also, so far, 373,398 persons have been vaccinated with the first dose of a covid vaccine, representing 72.8 per cent of the adult population, while 231,729 persons have been fully vaccinated, amounting to 45.2 per cent of the adult population.

For the adolescent population, 26,391 children have taken the first dose Pfizer vaccine, amounting to 36.2 per cent of that population, while 17,379 are fully vaccinated, representing 2.5 per cent of the adolescent population.

World AIDS Day 2021: End inequalities. End AIDS. End pandemics.

This World AIDS Day, the Region will be highlighting the urgent need to end the inequalities that drive AIDS and other pandemics around the world.

Without bold action against inequalities, the world risks a resurgence of HIV, as well as a prolonged COVID-19 pandemic and a spiralling social and economic crisis.

Forty years since the first AIDS cases were reported, HIV still threatens the world. Today, the world is off track from delivering on the shared commitment to end AIDS by 2030 and is even risking a resurgence, not because of a lack of knowledge or tools to beat AIDS, but because of structural inequalities that obstruct proven solutions to HIV prevention and treatment.

Economic, social, cultural and legal inequalities must be ended as a matter of urgency if we are to end AIDS by 2030.

Although there is a perception that a time of crisis is not the right time to prioritize tackling the underlying social injustices, it is clear that without doing so, the crisis cannot be overcome.

Tackling inequalities is a long-standing global promise, the urgency of which has only increased. In 2015, all countries pledged to reduce inequalities within and between countries as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. The Global AIDS Strategy 2021–2026: End Inequalities, End AIDS and the Political Declaration on AIDS adopted at the 2021 United Nations High-Level Meeting on AIDS have ending inequalities at their core.

As well as being central to ending AIDS, tackling inequalities will advance the human rights of key populations and people who are living with HIV, make societies better prepared to beat COVID-19 and other pandemics and support economic recovery and stability. Fulfilling the promise to tackle inequalities will save millions of lives and will benefit society as a whole.

But ending inequalities requires transformative change. Political, economic and social policies need to protect the rights of everyone and pay attention to the needs of disadvantaged and marginalized communities.

We know how to beat AIDS, we know what the inequalities obstructing progress are, and we know how to tackle them. The policies to address inequalities can be implemented, but they require leaders to be bold.

Governments must now move from commitment to action. Governments must promote inclusive social and economic growth. They must eliminate discriminatory laws, policies and practices to ensure equal opportunity and reduce inequalities. It is time for governments to keep their promises. They must act now, and we must make them accountable.

This World AIDS Day, let’s remind our governments that global inequalities affect us all, no matter who we are or where we are located. This World AIDS Day, let’s demand action to end inequalities and AIDS and all other pandemics that thrive on inequalities.

COVID-19 Behaviors Dashboard

The Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs recently launched the COVID-19 Behaviors Dashboard. The digital tool highlights data from a global survey of knowledge, attitudes and practices around COVID-19, including vaccine acceptance.

A webinar to launch the Dashboard was held earlier this week. Click below for the webinar recording and presentation slides. A link to the Dashboard is also below.

National AIDS Commission (NAC) Belize Equips Civil Society Organisations with PPE

In September, Mr Enrique Romero, Executive Director, National AIDS Commission (NAC) Belize, presented personal protective equipment (PPE), specifically face shields, to members of civil society organizations (CSOs).

The donation was made possible through support from PANCAP’s COVID-19 (C19RM) grant, of which Belize is a beneficiary.

The beneficiaries included Belize Family Life Association – BFLA, “Our Circle”, United Belize Advocacy Movement – Unibam, Belize Trans Colors, Empower Yourself Belize Movement – EYBM, Belize Youth Empowerment For Change – BYEC and Helpage Belize.

Additional PPE for CSOs are forthcoming and will be presented at a later date.

COVID-19 Has Devastated HIV and TB Services According to New Global Fund Report

Washington, DC – New data released by the Global Fund today shows that COVID-19 had a devastating impact on the fight against AIDS and tuberculosis in 2020, and it makes clear the critically important role of emergency support provided by the U.S. as part of the American Rescue Plan.

For the first time in the history of the Global Fund, key programmatic results in the fight against AIDS, TB and malaria have gone backwards, the annual results report showed. About one million fewer people with TB were treated in 2020 compared with 2019. For drug-resistant and extensively drug-resistant TB, testing and treatment declined by a staggering 19% and 37%, respectively. Until COVID-19 arrived, TB killed more people globally than any other infectious disease and is now the second deadliest infectious disease in the world.

HIV continues to hit young women and girls the hardest. Every week, 5,000 adolescent girls and young women are infected with HIV in east and southern Africa. But in 2020, 11% fewer people were reached with HIV prevention programs and services. HIV tests declined by 22%. For HIV treatment, children have been left furthest behind, with only 54% getting the lifesaving HIV treatment they need.

Malaria programming fared better through the pandemic, but progress against the disease – which killed over 400,000 people in 2019 — has stalled.

Yet the impact of COVID-19 today would have been even worse without support from the United States and other countries, whose investments allowed the Global Fund to move with speed and scale to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on HIV, TB and malaria in 2020.

In 2021, the United States committed an additional $3.5 billion to the Global Fund’s COVID-19 Response Mechanism as part of the American Rescue Plan. The COVID-19 Response Mechanism is helping to support innovations like delivering malaria bed nets door-to-door, dispensing multi-month supplies of TB and HIV drugs and using digital tools to monitor TB treatment.

For example, with the Global Fund’s support, in Nigeria, the National AIDS Council tested for both COVID-19 and HIV simultaneously, helping the country find more HIV-positive people. Most malaria campaigns quickly adapted to COVID-19, avoiding large disruptions, and the number of children protected through Seasonal Chemoprevention Campaigns has increased.

U.S. emergency funding has also made a direct and tangible impact on the COVID-19 response in low- and middle-income countries receiving Global Fund grants. The emergency U.S. funds are being used to shore up health systems, scale-up COVID-19 rapid testing and provide desperately needed therapeutics like oxygen. As of August 2021, $3.3 billion had been approved for 107 countries and 16 multi-country programs through the COVID-19 Response Mechanism and flexibilities within existing grants.

As the Delta variant tore through India earlier this year, the Global Fund was able to fast-track $75 million to the country to purchase oxygen concentrators and Pressure Swing Adsorption oxygen plants. When Delta caused a surge of COVID-19 cases in Uganda, the Global Fund was able to support the country’s urgent order for additional PPE and COVID-19 tests. As of July 5, the Global Fund had delivered 2.5 million diagnostic tests to Uganda.

“I want to thank Congress for providing a significant infusion of COVID-19 funding to the Global Fund during a critical and terrifying time. The new data confirms that COVID-19 has had a devastating impact and also makes clear how crucial U.S. support continues to be,” said Chris Collins, president and CEO of Friends of the Global Fight. “Next year’s data will be even more shocking if we do not step up and increase investments in global health. The lives of millions of people are now on the line. With dangerous new COVID-19 variants wreaking havoc, particularly in low-income countries, the United States and its partners must do more to make sure that 20 years of progress against AIDS, TB and malaria won’t come undone.”

Dr Jeffrey L. Sturchio, Friends’ Board Chair and chairman at Rabin Martin, a global health strategy consulting firm, agreed.

“Let’s not forget that the Global Fund has been remarkably effective, saving 44 million lives since 2002. It has weathered the crisis of operating during a global pandemic, but it needs more resources. The world can’t afford to backslide any further on fighting AIDS, TB and malaria. Investments to end these epidemics will also help to strengthen health systems to meet the dual challenges of addressing COVID-19 and preparing for future pandemics.”

Belize to implement HIV Self-testing

The National AIDS Commission (NAC) Belize announced that the country is preparing to launch HIV Self Testing, an innovative service delivery model, during the new Global Fund grant cycle.
HIV self-testing is a process whereby a person collects saliva or pinprick blood specimen, performs a test, and receives the result privately. Evidence shows that self-testing is safe and accurate and increases testing uptake among people who may not test otherwise. It offers a way to make testing discreet, comfortable, and empowering.
Self-testing will also help ensure that HIV diagnosis does not decline during the COVID-19 pandemic as part of a comprehensive strategy.

COVID-19 vaccines were not developed overnight “humanity was lucky” — Guyanese virologist at Pfizer

Principal Research Scientist at the United States drug maker Pfizer, Dr Vidia Roopchand, has sought to dispel concerns that COVID vaccines were developed overnight but said they date back to the fight against two other coronaviruses.

He said research in tackling Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in the early 2000s and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012 formed the basis for developing vaccines for COVID-19.

“A lot of people don’t realise this, but people have been working on coronaviruses for at least the last 20 years because the first SARS came out in 2001, so people have been working on a spike for SARS and other coronaviruses for a long time… so SARS and MERS allowed us, meaning the virology community,…to make all of these structural substitutions,” he said.

Speaking on a University of Guyana (UG)-organised webinar on the topic “SARS COV-2 (Covid-19) Viral Physiology and Vaccine Development”, he explained that coronaviruses, including many of the common cold viruses, have been infecting humans for a long time. They include the Human coronavirus HKU1 (HCoV-HKU1), which has been causing respiratory problems for many years.

“People have been studying coronaviruses for a while, but when SARS occurred, people started taking notice, and around that time, there was a revolution in structural biology,” he said, adding that the technology advanced in making images of crystals. He said after MERS came on the scene, scientists said coronaviruses were not as innocuous as they used to think, resulting in them being able to examine gene and protein sequences.

He said the evidence shows that the Pfizer jab is neutralising the Delta variant, even as he urged more people to be inoculated to reduce the chance of other variants. Dr Roopchand urged people to visit the United States Food and Drug Administration’s website to examine the data on the vaccine.

The Virologist said the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine comprises an RNA sequence, lipids, some salt, sugars, and other constituents.

He said the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had granted Emergency Use Authorisation, based on the efficacy, even as trials continued. The FDA has since granted full authorisation for adults, while emergency authorisation continues for children from 12 years upwards. The US government recently donated 146,000 doses of the Pfizer jab for inoculating mainly adolescents as part of a “back-to-classroom” plan from September 6, 2021.

While there is a perception among some persons that scientists do not believe in God, he stressed that “I do believe in God and I think that something like this makes me believe in God even more because everything works and we were able to make this vaccine.”

The Principal Researcher at Pfizer said the efficacy of the polio vaccine lasts a lifetime because the entire virus had been used for that vaccine, but RNA was now being used for the first time in the manufacture of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr Persaud received his early education at the Methodist Primary on Wakenaam Island, Essequibo River and then the Anna Regina Multilateral School before going to the University of Guyana. He later obtained higher qualifications in Chemical Engineering from Columbia University.

PANCAP welcomes Ms Simone Jackson, PEPFAR Coordinator, Caribbean Regional Program, Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator and Health Diplomacy (S/GAC)

From the Desk of the Director, Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV and AIDS (PANCAP):

Dear Partners,

Please join me in welcoming our new PEPFAR Coordinator, Ms Simone  Jackson, who is based at the U.S. Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica. Most recently, she served as Internal Political Unit Chief at the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia, Brazil (2018-2021).  Simone will oversee the United States’ assistance to combat HIV and AIDS in Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, and the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. I anticipate engaging with Simone to strengthen the Region’s HIV response and plan the way forward as we continue to navigate COVID-19.  I wish her the best in her new leadership role to advance PEPFAR’s support and serve the region.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Rosmond Adams


Biography

Ms Simone Jackson, PEPFAR Coordinator, Caribbean Regional Program, Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator and Health Diplomacy (S/GAC)

Simone Jackson is the PEPFAR Coordinator for the Caribbean Regional Program based at the U.S. Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica.

She joined the U.S. Department of State in 2003 and most recently served as Internal Political Unit Chief at the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia, Brazil (2018-2021).  Previous overseas assignments include Management Section Chief in Luanda, Angola (2014-2015), Refugee and Humanitarian Affairs Officer in Islamabad, Pakistan (2011-2013), Deputy Economic Counselor in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (2010-2011), Economic Officer in Mexico City, Mexico (2006-2008), and Visa Section Chief in Sanaa, Yemen (2004-2006).

Simone has also served in Washington as the Senior Economic Officer in the Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs (2016-2018), Energy Officer for Turkey and the Caucuses in the Bureau of Energy Resources (2015-2016), and Program Officer in the Office of Refugee Admissions (2008-2010).

Simone is originally from Miami, Florida and holds a Bachelor’s in International Affairs and Economics from George Washington University.  She is married to a fellow Foreign Service Officer; they have two daughters and a son.

###

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:

Secretary-General;

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.