World AIDS Day 2017 Message from Winfield Tannis-Abbott, Interim Chair of the Caribbean Regional Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (CRN+)
Today the Caribbean Regional Network of People Living with HIV (CRN+) commemorates World AIDS Day under the theme “Right to Health”. This theme is meant to encourage every individual to address the barriers that impede them from achieving optimal physical and mental health. At the same time, we urge our states to accelerate progress toward fulfilling the commitment made through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all, at all ages.
Caribbean progress toward ending AIDS but gaps remain
The Caribbean has joined the community of nations in committing to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. Significant progress has been made in scaling up access to HIV treatment. According to UNAIDS more than half (52%) of all people living with HIV in the Caribbean were on treatment in 2016. There was a 28% decline in AIDS-related deaths in the region between 2010 and 2016. And this region leads the world in progress toward eliminating mother-to-child HIV transmission.
But while this advancement is encouraging, there should be no room for complacency as there are still significant gaps. Roughly one-third of people living with HIV in the Caribbean (36%) do not know their status.
Additionally, just one of every three people (33%) on HIV treatment is virally suppressed. This should not be the case when testing and treatment services are available.
In order to close the gaps, policy-makers, social and health care providers should be more responsive to the specific needs of people living with HIV. Stock-outs of antiretroviral medication must become a thing of the past. Diagnostic and monitoring laboratory services should be properly managed and resourced. The mental health and social needs of people living with HIV must be priorities.
Critically, stakeholders should ensure confidentiality and work to eliminate stigma and discrimination within healthcare settings. Everyone should feel safe and comfortable in accessing health services. No person should be discriminated against or denied access because of their HIV status, age, sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, race, ethnicity, language, geographical location, marital status or any other characteristic.
People living with HIV must assert their right to health
It is also incumbent upon people living with HIV to exercise their rights by seeking support, counselling, treatment and routine monitoring of their CD4 counts and viral loads. We must scale up the Greater Involvement of People living with HIV or GIPA principles, ensuring that we support full involvement and ownership by networks and communities of people living with HIV. By the same token, vulnerable and key populations including young people, sex workers, men who have sex with men and transgender people, need to be involved to ensure the strategies we develop are actually responsive to the needs of those we hope to reach
Remembering PLHIV in hurricane-ravaged islands
As we observe this day, we must pause to remember how the recent natural disasters in our region have exposed the need for policies and planning to ensure the availability of medicines and HIV services in emergency contexts. Assessments must be done now on the impact of these disasters on countries’ HIV responses. When our paths to sustainability can so easily be diverted by a hurricane or earthquake, disaster preparedness, recovery and building resilience must be priorities. As the islands of Dominica, Barbuda and the British Virgin Islands in particular work to recover, we urge government and development partners to address the health and social needs of the community of people living with HIV.
A call to the people of the Caribbean: Get tested! Held end stigma and discrimination!
As CRN+ joins the rest of the world in marking World AIDS Day 2017, we call upon all Caribbean people who have not yet taken an HIV test to do so today. Knowing your HIV status is very important as the experience can help either strengthen your efforts to stay HIV-free or guide you to the treatment and care services that will allow you to live a long, healthy and productive life with HIV.
Beginning today, we must shout out and pledge that stigma and discrimination end with me. Let us commit to reinvigorating our efforts to realize a world free of AIDS and to ending the scourge of discrimination. I urge our fellow Caribbean countries to protect the basic human rights of people living with HIV, including their rights to physical and mental health and well-being, social and economic opportunities, and full participation in shaping prosperous and sustainable societies.