Additional funding urgently needed as the Global Fund runs out of COVID-19 funding

Key takeaways: 

  • The Global Fund needs additional funding to continue supporting the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) response and mitigate the impact of the pandemic on HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria programs in the countries where it invests.
  • After deploying all available COVID-19 funds, nearly $1 billion in total, most of it to sub-Saharan African countries, it has run out of funding. Without this support, implementer countries risk facing significant disruptions to their three disease programs while COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

The Global Fund has disbursed close to $1 billion to support the COVID-19 response and mitigate the impact of the pandemic on HIV, Tuberculosis (TB), and Malaria programs. The institution recently announced that it had fully deployed all the funds to 106 countries and more than ten multi-country programs. However, it still has to honor country requests amounting to over $355 million, which is likely to increase as more countries submit their requests.

The Global Fund is yet to raise an additional $5 billion to continue supporting these countries. Without the additional resources required to safeguard the three disease programs amid rising COVID-19 cases, countries are likely to face more disruptions to health service delivery and lose the gains made in the response to the three diseases.

Of the $1 billion, $500 million was raised through portfolio optimization and made available through the COVID-19 Response Mechanism (C19RM), $221 million was made available through grant flexibilities, and an additional $259 million was received from donors (Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Norway, and the FIFA Foundation) and channelled through the C19RM.

This funding has supported these countries to mitigate damage to HIV, TB, and Malaria programs due to COVID-19, recruit healthcare workers, equip them with personal protective equipment (PPE) and strengthen fragile health systems.

Information for this article comes from the Global Fund Data Service Page, the World Health Organization (WHO) COVID-19 Explorer, and the Global Fund Secretariat.

Global Fund fully deploys its COVID-19 funding

The Global Fund has disbursed $979 million, of which $757 million is through the C19RM and $221 through grant flexibilities (Table 1), respectively. Of the 119 countries and multi-country programs that benefited, 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa received 74 percent ($725 million) of COVID-19 funding. They received 79 percent of the C19RM funds and 56 percent of the total amount of funding awarded through grant flexibilities. Sub-Saharan African countries that received a significant portion of funding include Nigeria ($73 million), South Africa ($65 million), Mozambique ($63 million), and Uganda ($62 million). Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA), Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), and North Africa and the Middle East (MENA) each received the smallest proportion (3 percent) of the funding.

Countries only accessed $221 million of the $500 million allowable through grant flexibilities. A previous Aidspan analysis showed a slower uptake of grant flexibilities than C19RM funds (as discussed in a previous edition, the Global Fund’s COVID-19 emergency funding is running out). It attributed the slower uptake to challenges in the application process, or to countries having already used up most of their savings.

The Global Fund had allowed countries to use grant savings to the value of 5 percent and reprogram up to 5 percent of the grant’s current value. However, most countries obtained these funds through grant savings rather than reprogramming, in a bid to ‘protect their programs.’ The Aidspan analysis indicated that more than half of the countries received between 2 and 4 percent of their total grant value.

The countries used a third of the funding awarded through the C19RM to mitigate the pandemic’s impact on the three diseases (Table 1). These efforts aimed to address COVID-19 related disruptions to delivering health services and avert the millions of deaths predicted due to the pandemic. More than half (55 percent) of the funds were used to support the COVID-19 response, particularly in the procurement of COVID-19 diagnostic tests, while the remaining 11 percent was used to support health and community systems.

Similarly, countries have used 59 percent of the grant flexibilities to reinforce the COVID-19 response, 32 percent in mitigating its impact on the three diseases, and the remaining 9 percent on health and community systems.

Source: Global Fund COVID-19 Situation Report, 13 January 2021

Countries have used the funds according to their needs. For instance, Moldova used part of the funds to procure 5 000 HIV and TB testing kits, PPE for health workers, and expand video-observed therapy for TB patients, which is a video-based approach to Direct Observed Therapy (DOT). South Africa used part of the funds to create virtual platforms to expand psychosocial support or counseling to sex workers and deliver packages of PPE, condoms and lubricants and HIV self-test kits to street- and brothel-based sex workers.

The funds have also supported door-to-door services such as TB testing, contact tracing, and mosquito net distribution in Vanuatu, and antiretroviral therapy and health services to mothers with HIV and pregnant women in Uganda. A local HIV community network in Ukraine has used part of the funds to deliver antiretroviral therapy and other medicines to people living with HIV via the postal service.

Countries have also leveraged laboratory infrastructure, notably Cepheid’s GeneXpert molecular diagnostic devices and the technicians trained to operate them, initially designed for HIV and TB services. However, this has raised concerns in various quarters on the effect this has had on HIV and TB services.

COVID-19 resource needs for implementer countries continue to rise

The pandemic among some Global Fund implementer countries, particularly in the African region, has been growing in recent months. Of the 106 countries that benefited from the Global Fund’s emergency funding, more than half (61 countries) experienced a rise in the number of cases from the preceding week, as reported by the WHO on 12 January 2021. Sierra Leone reported the largest increase: 2 109 percent, although the caseload remains low (2 834 cases as of 12 January 2021). The number of cases in other countries grew by between 1 percent in Panama and 494 percent in Côte d’Ivoire, with Sierra Leone reporting an exceptional increase.

The majority of the remaining countries reported a decline, while only a few reported no change.

Figure 1: Percentage change in the weekly number of cases, top 15 countries (as reported on 12 January)

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Source: WHO COVID-19 Explorer

However, there are still fears that the actual caseload may be higher than the current statistics reported due to low testing availability. BBC estimates that in Africa, which has the lowest testing rate compared to other regions, only 10 countries account for 70 percent of the total tests: South Africa, Morocco, Ethiopia, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Cameroon, Rwanda, Uganda, and Ghana.

The absence of additional funding leaves the programs vulnerable

This rise in the number of cases and lack of adequate resources to mitigate the pandemic’s effect is likely to further disrupt the delivery of health services in these countries. Indeed, implementer countries are still experiencing significant disruptions to health services, with TB services being the most affected. Furthermore, the rise in cases increases the need for restrictions, including nationwide lockdowns, which are significant barriers to access health services. According to the COVID-19 Situation Report published on 23 December 2020, 36 percent of countries where the Global Fund invests still had nationwide lockdowns on 15 December 2020. Other countries (25 percent) had local restrictions that affected the implementation of Global Fund grants.

The Global Fund intensifies resource mobilization efforts

The need for additional funding for the Global Fund to continue supporting its implementer countries cannot be emphasized enough. In an email to the Global Fund Observer, the Secretariat noted that it is intensifying resource mobilization efforts to raise the additional $5 billion it needs to continue supporting its implementer countries. In the meantime, it has asked countries to continue submitting funding requests to the C19RM, so their requests are ready once additional funds become available. Countries can still use grant flexibilities to support their COVID-19 response. However, the Secretariat further explained that most countries appear to have already exhausted this mechanism.

Countries with new grants starting in January 2021 have some respite. The Global Fund has allowed countries to use standard allocations to procure PPE for health workers working within the three disease programs, which they can procure through the online platform wambo.org. Overall, the countries should adopt more efficient and innovative ways of using the funds available. This includes the adoption of digital modalities that have become common since the emergence of the pandemic.

Global COVID-19 response remains underfunded

The global COVID-19 response has been grossly underfunded as traditional global health donors prioritize their domestic responses. The $5 billion the Global Fund intends to raise is part of the overall financing needed by the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-Accelerator), of which the Global Fund is a co-founder. Overall, the ACT-Accelerator, launched in April 2020, has only attracted 15 percent ($5.8 billion) of the $38 billion needed to accelerate development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines.

The Global Fund welcomes the United States’ recent commitment to support the international COVID-19 response and mitigate the impact of the virus on the world. Advocates are calling for the United States government to allocate $4 billion to the Global Fund’s COVID-19 response in the next COVID-19 emergency supplemental bill. Similar calls in the past have been unsuccessful. However, the United States’ $4 billion allocation to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, in the December supplemental bill, for the procurement and delivery of the COVID-19 vaccine, provides a glimmer of hope.

Even though the Global Fund is not directly involved in the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, the Secretariat explained to the Global Fund Observer that additional funds would help to support the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine by providing PPE to health workers, mobilizing community leadership, and strengthening the health facilities, supply chains and data systems that will be critical for the vaccine distribution.

Further reading:

Caribbean Research Ethics Education Initiative (CREEii)

The Caribbean Research Ethics Education Initiative (CREEii) invites applications to its Masters Degree Program in Bioethics and Research Ethics

Call for Applications 2021

Funded by the Fogarty International Center of the National Institutes of Health (Award # R25TW009731) CREEii invites applications for full scholarships to its Masters Degree Program in Bioethics and Research Ethics (MScB). The deadline to apply is Wednesday, 24 February 2021 (classes begin in May 2021).

The CREEii scholarship is available to citizens and residents of English and Spanish speaking countries that are listed by the World Bank as low through upper middle income, and who have attained at least a bachelor’s degree or equivalent. It is exclusive to our 2-year program delivered primarily online and asynchronously supplemented by intermittent synchronous sessions. It includes travel expenses to attend 2 intensive onsite courses of several days duration at partner institutions: the Autonomous University of Queretaro (Mexico) and St. George’s University (Grenada). An additional partner is the Bioethics Program at Clarkson University (USA) which awards the MScB degree to those who successfully complete the program. A commitment of 10-12 hours weekly across 2 years with short breaks for major holidays is required of those enrolled.

Eligible countries defined by World Bank data
Belize, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, St Lucia, St Vincent, Surinam, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, México and Nicaragua

The CREEii program is interdisciplinary and designed for those involved in health-related professions not limited to medicine, veterinary medicine, pharmacy, information technology, academia, law, social sciences, psychology, the arts, and others. The curriculum emphasizes research and publication in bioethics in order to generate more regional bioethics and research ethics scholarship. The master’s thesis is central and is designed to foster research and writing skills through critical thinking about the design, conduct, analysis, and attempt to publish their research in a mainstream peer-reviewed journal. The MScB research encourages normative and analytical methods and the use of secondary data.

CREEii is regionally relevant and facilitates multicultural and multinational partnerships through bilingual translation and interpretation between Spanish and English. The program equips fellows to function as researchers, educators, policy advocates, and academics and includes a 10-week course in the responsible conduct of research (RCR). Applicants who are bilingual and positioned to integrate MScB education into their career, institution, or country will be prioritized.

How to Apply
To apply, submit the completed Application Form (Application Form English CREEi 2021) and an unofficial copy (screenshot acceptable) of your most recent transcript with your application by email (addresses indicated on the Application Form) by Wednesday, 24 February 2021. Those accepted to the program are required to submit an official copy of their most recent transcript upon acceptance. Additionally, applicants must request 3 letters of support including 1 from the home institution or employer on their official email address or official institutional letterhead.

For more information, please contact:

The road to PrEP in Guyana

21 January 2021 (Georgetown, Guyana)  This year, Guyana will roll out a comprehensive plan for Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). Dr Frank Anthony, Minister of Health, Guyana announced that the national strategy would be implemented in collaboration with clinics across the country and nongovernmental organizations.

“We want to expand to ensure anyone who is at risk for HIV would have access,” Dr Anthony said. “We believe that with a comprehensive programme for PrEP we can prevent many infections.”

This move marks the culmination of years of advocacy and partial PrEP implementation. The existing PrEP policy is a programme for serodiscordant partners only, so couples in which just one person is living with HIV have been able to access PrEP through the public health-care system to avoid transmission to the HIV-negative partner.

Since 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended that “people at substantial risk of HIV infection” should be offered PrEP. Several countries have prioritized key populations, including gay men and other men who have sex with men, sex workers and transgender people, for PrEP programming. In Guyana, those groups also have higher HIV prevalence: 8% for transgender women, 6% for sex workers and 5% for gay men and other men who have sex with men.

Last year, Guyana’s Society against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD Guyana) moved from calling for a more inclusive PrEP programme to offering the service itself. The group teamed with the Midway Specialty Care Centre to fill this gap in the country’s HIV prevention response.

“We want combination prevention to take the front burner,” said Joel Simpson, Managing Director, SASOD Guyana. Through this private sector/civil society partnership, for the first time, people in Guyana from any population group were able to elect to initiate PrEP. The medicine was sold to clients at cost price, and those accessing the service through the nongovernmental organizations paid no consultation fees.

A 2018 SASOD Guyana assessment of gay men and other men who have sex with men and transgender people supported by the International HIV and AIDS Alliance (now called Frontline AIDS) found that, when sensitized, there was a high level of interest in taking PrEP. However, just around 60% of focus group participants were willing to pay to do so.

“We need politicians and technical people to base decisions on science and research. At times we have encountered a moralistic approach to setting public policy,” Mr Simpson reflected. “It’s not about whether you belong to a particular population group. It’s about responding to reality and lowering risk.”

Guyana’s HIV programme results are among the Caribbean’s best. The country surpassed the 2020 testing target, with 94% of people living with HIV diagnosed in 2019. Seventy-three per cent of people who knew their status were on treatment. Of those, 87% were virally suppressed. Over the past 20 years, new HIV infections have been reduced by half in the South American nation.

“HIV treatment has come a long way, and not just for people living with HIV. To close the gaps and ensure that no one is left behind it is critical that best practices for prevention and treatment are implemented fully,” said Michel de Groulard, UNAIDS Country Director, a.i., for Guyana and Suriname. “This is why we are pleased about the direction the Health Ministry is taking this year to ensure that PrEP is made available to all who need it. We have the tools to end AIDS. Now we must use them.”

Guyana focusing on COVID-19 vaccines through COVAX – Dr Anthony

(Georgetown, Guyana) Health Minister, Dr Frank Anthony yesterday stated that Guyana’s main focus for procuring COVID-19 vaccines is through the COVAX facility.

Dr Anthony was at the time responding to a question posed by Stabroek News during his daily COVID-19 update.

COVAX is one of three pillars of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, which was launched in April by the World Health Organization (WHO), the European Commission and France in response to the pandemic. It strives to ensure that people in all corners of the world get access to COVID-19 vaccines once they are available, regardless of their wealth.

Barbados – Eight persons, including Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley, have received their first round of the COVID-19 vaccine

Eight persons, including Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley, have received their first round of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Prime Minister Mottley disclosed this last evening during a COVID-19 update to the nation from Ilaro Court, where she spoke about the level of public education that would occur to educate the population on the importance of getting the vaccine.

Stressing that she would not encourage anyone to do something she would not, the Prime Minister said: “I’m happy to report that therefore, in the course of the last few days that there were five of our medical people at the front line who have taken the vaccination – the first dose, and myself, the Minister of Health and the Attorney General also, were the other three people who took it. My arm is a little sore, but other than that I am in good shape; you see me talking with you and I’m due to take the second dose in a few weeks time as are they.”

While noting that there is concern not just in Barbados but throughout the world about receiving the vaccine, Prime Minister Mottley stated that in order to ensure that the country gets back to a level of normalcy a level of herd immunity would need to occur.

“There will be some people who are a little ambivalent or anxious, and over the course of the next few weeks, we will engage to be able to answer people’s questions, not just in these formal processes, but also through public education that we will do in different media and at the community levels in order to give people the comfort that they need,” the Prime Minister explained as the way forward, in carrying out public awareness on the importance of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

Watch the video below.

HIV self-testing good for Guyanese, says NAP Manager

15 January 2021 (Georgetown, Guyana)  While the government’s recent announcement that Guyanese would be allowed to self-test for HIV has attracted criticism from stakeholders, the new Programme Manager of the National AIDS Programme Secretariat (NAPS), Dr Tariq Jagnarine believes it is a good thing for Guyanese.

In a recent interview with the News Room, Dr Jagnarine welcomed the announcement by Minister of Health, Dr Frank Anthony, and used the opportunity to quell the fears of those involved in the domestic HIV and AIDS response.

He said self-testing has proven to be a best practice in many developed countries. He is confident that with the appropriate guidelines, it can work in Guyana as a majority contributor to helping the government reach its targets, among which, is ending AIDS by 2030.

“It is doable…before the programme is implemented, there will likely be a guided policy on how it will be rolled out and monitored,” Dr Jagnarine assured.

He acknowledged that Guyana has its own challenges with the remoteness of some regions. Still, He said that with proper Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), self-testing could be effectively done in Guyana.

Asked about the possibility of some persons testing positive and failing to report it to the authorities in keeping with the government’s push to not only have persons on treatment but to ensure viral suppression, Dr Jagnarine said self-testing would not be done in an isolated manner.

He said it would go hand-in-hand with all the other programmes at NAPS which will allow for proper tracking and monitoring of persons.

“It will be highly scrutinised and tracked…I personally wouldn’t want to see somebody tested and we missed them and can’t put then on ARVs,” he added.

The government has not said when self-testing would start in Guyana. The announcement to start self-testing coincides with the launch of a new National HIV Strategic Plan 2021- 2025.

With roughly 8,000 persons living with HIV in Guyana, statistics from the Health Ministry show that at the end of 2020, 90 per cent of those infected knew their status, while 72 per cent were on antiretroviral therapy and 75 per cent of those receiving antiretroviral therapy were virally suppressed.

SASOD lauds HIV self-testing, interested in rendering services

The Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) has lauded the Government’s decision to implement self-testing for HIV. At the launch of the National HIV Strategic Plan, on 5 January 2021, Minister of Health, Dr Frank Anthony, announced that the government is looking to implement HIV self-testing in Guyana.

During an interview with the Guyana Chronicle on Wednesday, Managing Director of SASOD Guyana, Joel Simpson, commended the initiative and noted that SASOD is ready and willing to support the initiative by providing counselling services to persons impacted.

“It’s a laudable initiative because HIV self-testing is showing results in other parts of the world.  It encourages persons that would not normally utilise HIV health services, to test in the privacy of their homes and know their HIV status,” Simpson explained.

Simpson highlighted that self-testing would increase HIV testing coverage since it can be made available to persons far and wide.  “This will inevitably help curtail the spread of HIV”, stated the SASOD Director.

“It’s a very innovative and effective prevention strategy; it could be targeted to those groups that are not reaching out to health services to get an HIV test,” he said. He explained that persons generally have concerns about stigma and discrimination and are usually unsure about the confidentiality of information they share during the HIV testing process.

Further, he highlighted that studies have revealed that Caribbean men are less likely to utilise health services until they are severely affected.

“HIV self-testing provides an opportunity to improve confidentiality and reach persons that are not coming forward. If targeted to the right groups, it can increase HIV testing coverage in Guyana,” Simpson explained.

MISUNDERSTANDING

Responding to the criticism of the initiative by some persons that Guyana is not equipped and ready for such an endeavour, primarily because persons would not be able to access counselling services when self-testing, Simpson opined that this is a misunderstanding.

He explained that the World Health Organization (WHO) guiding principles on HIV testing and counselling stipulates that testing and counselling should be voluntary and must adhere to the five Cs. The five Cs are consent, confidentiality, counselling, correct test results and connections to care, treatment and prevention services. The SASOD Director noted that the organisation is ready and willing to provide counselling services and render psycho-social support to persons of all genders and sexual orientation when the initiative commences.

“SASOD would be interested in providing counselling services.  We want to ensure that persons have counselling to prepare for the results after taking an HIV test.  It’s important that persons have psycho-social support if they test positive,” Simpson related. He is also hopeful that in rolling out the initiative, the government will implement different methodologies in relation to counselling to ensure the initiative’s success, such as a hotline number.

Simpson noted that organisations such as SASOD would play a significant role in creating awareness about the initiative through relationships established with persons who utilise their services. He urged the ministry to connect with these groups that already provide social support and counselling to develop partnerships.

“I would encourage the ministry and national programme to conduct extensive consultations with civil society groups that work in the HIV response to establish these groups as partners in the HIV self-testing initiative,” Simpson said.

Global Fund signs a record-breaking $8.54 billion in grants to fight HIV, TB and Malaria

GENEVA – In 2020, the Global Fund signed 157 grants for a total of US$8.54 billion for lifesaving HIV, Tuberculosis (TB) and malaria programs and to strengthen systems for health. This is the highest amount of grants ever signed in a single year by the Global Fund. The grants will begin implementation this month.

“This is an exceptional achievement that will help more than 100 countries continue the critical fight against HIV, TB and malaria – epidemics that kill more than 2.3 million people every year,” said Peter Sands, Executive Director of the Global Fund. “As the COVID-19 pandemic overwhelms health systems around the world, it is now more important than ever that we ensure countries have the resources they need to fight HIV, TB and malaria and to strengthen the systems for health needed to respond to all four diseases.”

The Global Fund has a total of US$12.71 billion available in funding allocations for the three-year funding cycle that runs from 2020-2022. Of these funds, the Global Fund had planned for US$8.9 billion in grants to be approved in 2020, with the remaining funds scheduled for later start dates. However, the Secretariat accelerated its grant-making efforts and exceeded the original target, approving US$9.2 billion of funding in 2020. As of 31 December 2020, US$8.54 of the approved grants had been signed and begin implementation this month; two countries were still in the process of signing the remaining finalized grants worth US$660 million.

“Even in the midst of a new global pandemic, during an extraordinarily challenging year, the Global Fund partnership has supported countries to develop grants more quickly and effectively than ever before,” said Donald Kaberuka, Global Fund Board Chair. “A record-breaking 67% of grants for the 2020-2022 funding cycle have now been signed, compared to 50% of grants signed at the same time in the last funding cycle, representing a remarkable increase in performance.”

In comparison, at the same time in the 2017-2019 funding cycle, the Global Fund had signed US$5.2 billion in grants out of a US$10.3 billion funding allocation.

Over the past year, the Global Fund has supported implementing partners and Country Coordinating Mechanisms (the committee of local community, government and health experts that develop and guide Global Fund-supported programs in a country) to develop detailed funding requests for programs to respond to the epidemics at the country level. As part of the Global Fund’s grant-making process, all funding requests are reviewed by an independent Technical Review Panel and then by the Grant Approvals Committee for quality and comprehensiveness before going to the Global Fund Board for final approval. Once the Global Fund and the implementing partners sign the grant, implementation of programs can begin.

The Global Fund is extremely appreciative of the continued support of donors for its core funding, as pledges made at the record-breaking Replenishment Conference in Lyon in October 2019 are converted into cash contributions. Sustaining funding levels for the fight against HIV, TB and malaria is vital at a moment when disruptions related to the COVID-19 pandemic threaten to reverse many years of progress against the three diseases.

On top of the new grants awarded to fight HIV, TB and malaria, the Global Fund has approved US$980 million in additional funding to 106 low- and middle-income countries and 14 multicountry programs to respond to COVID-19 in 2020. The Global Fund has estimated that it needs a further US$5 billion on top of its core funding to support countries in responding to the pandemic by reinforcing national COVID-19 responses; mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on lifesaving HIV, TB and malaria programs; and making urgent improvements to health and community systems.

Attaining UNAIDS’ proposed societal and legal barrier targets could stop 440 000 AIDS-related deaths 

UNAIDS has called on countries to make far greater investments in global pandemic responses and adopt a new set of bold, ambitious but achievable HIV targets for 2025.

An analysis was performed focused on available studies that have quantitatively measured the negative impact of stigma and discrimination and the criminalization of sex work, drug use and same-sex sexual relationships on HIV prevention, testing and treatment efforts.

The analysis suggests that failure to make any progress on HIV-related stigma and discrimination would undermine efforts to reach the HIV testing, treatment and viral suppression targets, resulting in an additional 440 000 AIDS-related deaths between 2020 and 2030, and that failure to make any progress across all societal enablers would undermine efforts to reach HIV prevention targets, resulting in 2.6 million additional new HIV infections over the same period.

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Guyana to end mother-to-child transmission of HIV, further reduce new infections by 2025

On Tuesday, Guyana recommitted itself to the Global AIDS Strategy, which hopes to end AIDS by 2030, launching a new National HIV Strategic Plan 2021- 2025.

The new plan puts Guyana on track with global momentum but sets achievable benchmarks for the country and strengthens its national HIV and AIDS response.

By 2025, Guyana hopes to reduce new HIV infections among key populations and other vulnerable groups by 95 percent.

Also, by 2025 all babies are expected to be born free of HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), ending mother-to-child transmission.

Guyana wants to also reduce AIDS-related deaths by 95 percent within the next five years.

In the past seven years, the national fight against HIV and AIDS was guided by the National HIV Vision document, which came to an end last year.

During the virtual launch of the innovative and progressive plan to achieve epidemic control on Tuesday, Guyana also boasted being the first Caribbean country to achieve the First 90 of the UNAIDS 90-90-90 goals.

This means that at the end of 2020, 90% of all People Living with HIV in Guyana knew their status.

Guyana falls short on the other two indicators where 72 percent of Guyanese with a diagnosed HIV infection are on antiretroviral therapy and 75 percent of those receiving antiretroviral therapy being virally suppressed.

Minister of Health Dr Frank Anthony acknowledged these shortcomings with the ambitious treatment target of 90 percent needed to be achieved.

Dr Anthony said while Guyana aspires to end AIDS by 2030, there are many other targets along the way.

He said Guyana had set its own target of 95 percent on several key indicators by 2025.

“There is a lot of underlying work that needs to be done to ensure the targets are met. While we fix exiting problems, we have to look to improve other targets,” he said.

The Minister said the political will exists to introduce a more comprehensive program with PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis) – a medicine people at risk for HIV take to prevent getting HIV.

Guyana had only been making this medication available to couples where one partner has tested positive for HIV.  Dr Anthony now says that the country intends to make it available for all citizens who are considered at risk.

The Minister said policies would be put in place to push self-testing among the population.

The new National HIV Strategic Plan was developed, revised and finalized through a process that included all stakeholders over the past year. It commenced in January 2020.

Acknowledging that there has been little change in the epidemic over the last five years with a small decline in 2018, Consultant Dereck Springer said there is now a strong political commitment and enabling environment to accelerate the national AIDS response.

He said that while there have been achievements, the response is still faced with numerous challenges that the new strategy addresses.

Springer said there continues to be dysfunctional coordination, high levels of stigma and discrimination and frequent stock-outs of medication.

These shortcomings, he says, will be addressed in the new plan.