People living with HIV today in the Caribbean are not alone.
There is counselling to support them; treatment to keep them healthy; and care so they stay the course.
Government, community organizations and international partners have come together to form an incredible system of support. Together they save lives and the promise those lives hold.
This response was unimaginable when the first HIV cases were reported 40 years ago. This region’s HIV response has confronted many unknowns over the last four decades. And so, it brings great experience and wisdom to the challenge of COVID-19.
This is what we know:
Health is not a stand-alone concern. It is interwoven with human rights, social protection and economics.
Testing and treatment on their own are not enough. Community involvement and investment are key to building trust and getting results.
Stigma and discrimination do not make anyone safer. They drive people away from services and support.
And finally, we must respond to the realities, needs and vulnerabilities of all persons. Leaving people behind is not an option if we are to succeed.
When faced with a shared threat we need all hands on deck. That work is well underway in the Caribbean. The state and community healthcare sectors have successfully adapted so that people living with HIV could access their treatment. And community organizations have re-imagined the ways they keep connected and offer support.
How can we pool our resources to ensure that no person takes their HIV medicine without food?
How do we innovate so that children living with HIV and children of mothers living with HIV have access to education during COVID19?
And how do we do all this without lowering expectations for the HIV response?
Based on 2021 UNAIDS data, we know that as of the end of 2020 82% of Caribbean people living with HIV were aware of their status. Among diagnosed people, 82% were on treatment. And 89% of those on treatment were virally suppressed. There has been a 28% decline in new infections since 2010 while AIDS-related deaths decreased by 51% over the last decade.
To close the gaps to the 90-90-90 targets and accelerate progress to the 95-95-95 targets set for 2025, we must work to end inequalities. The Caribbean must create a culture in which people don’t go without treatment because they worry about being treated badly if others find out they are HIV positive. We need to get the word out that if we support people to stay on their treatment, we’re also helping to prevent new infections. We need to replace ignorance and abuse with information and support. In a word, we need more kindness.
At the programmatic level we need increased investments in community-led organizations in the region that strengthen linkage to treatment and care and provide confidential and consistent psychosocial support. The Caribbean must also fully implement best practices in combination prevention, testing and treatment. This includes self-testing, rights-based index testing, multimonth dispensing and a transition to more effective first-line treatment regimens.
We have the scientific and social tools to end the AIDS epidemic. It’s time to use them.