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Message from the PANCAP Champions for Change on the occasion of World AIDS Day 2017 

November 30, 2017

We, the sixteen PANCAP Champions for Change (C4C), join the many voices on this World AIDS Day (WAD) in a clarion call for the right to health to be a fundamental human right for our people. This includes the right to be treated with dignity, irrespective of sexual orientation, social status, age, gender identity or disability.

Our diverse group of youth, religious, medical and media professionals, parliamentarians, academics and advocates come from The Bahamas in the north to Suriname and Guyana in the south.

Collectively, we pledge our support for Universal Health with access and coverage for all. We believe that our Caribbean babies deserve to be born HIV free, and there is no reason why the world’s largest vulnerable group, the disabled, should not enjoy the same rights and respect as others do.

On this WAD and every day of the year, we encourage all the people of our Region to participate in a relentless campaign against HIV/AIDS.  We want to empower our citizens to take responsibility for their health; include all citizens by providing access to health care services without stigma and discrimination; encourage and facilitate their full participation through effective partnerships for sustainability.

We call for prevention efforts to be scaled up to include testing and behaviour change and development communication as we accelerate our efforts to end AIDS by 2030.  We recommend, among other initiatives, the critical involvement of the media in shaping messages for social change.

The media are very important given their power to inform and educate, break the silence, challenge stigma and discrimination, follow-through by connecting audiences to HIV services, and help build political will.

In this regard, we believe that increased engagement of the religious community is a critical factor in this quest; that Social Media and Mass Media should be used strategically for the widest and most instantaneous reach and impact; that the strategic partnership with religious Organisations will reduce the challenges created by ‘miscommunication’ and enhance stakeholders participation in the HIV response.

Indeed, networking with all stakeholders must be the way forward for sustainability. This means redoubling our efforts to get the public and private sectors as well as civil society and religious organizations to join the promotion of Treat All, which includes the concept of Test and Start. In all of this, our Youth must also be at the forefront of the decision-making.

Practical challenges to the status quo and responses to the challenges are needed.  HIV/AIDS/Gender Sexual Violence (GSV) programmes and interventions must outline the importance of religious organizations in the response to GSV as part of the overall response/commitment to the AIDS response; their powerful influence in family life—where much of GSV occurs—and therefore their ability to develop attitudes that lead to non-violent family relationships must be exploited. These are issues that make populations vulnerable to HIV. It is therefore imperative that the Region begins to confront them openly so that the shame and stigma that attend them are to be removed.

As our Region moves towards ending AIDS by 2030, we, the PANCAP Champions for Change, recommend strengthening social norms and policies by involving people living with HIV in planning and implementing relevant and sustainable programmes and services. As everyone has a right to health, health practitioners and facilities must offer innovative modalities for prevention (e.g., Pre- Exposure Prophylaxis [PrEP]).  We must explore and provide the best and preferred HIV treatment options, especially low cost generics, for the preferred medicines that have been recently brokered. For years, there has been advocacy at all levels for better medications for the Caribbean.  Now that this is possible, they must be available for every patient in every Caribbean country.

We think it is important to highlight the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s definition of health: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Within this context, as Champions, we have committed to focus on the promotion of healthy living. We reiterate that future interventions and advocacy against stigma directed at key populations, we believe that as a Region, we can end AIDS by 2030.

Finally, we implore the Region (Governments and Civil Society) to invest in behaviour change for development in Caribbean societies as the benefits are a secure and enabling environment that facilitates access to health irrespective of identity and status.

It is also vital to keep stakeholders updated on the results of interventions. In this context, as well we urge our parliamentarians to remove the legal strictures that have hampered prevention, treatment and care programmes.