Let’s End It: On World AIDS Day, a Look at HIV in the Caribbean
The HIV/AIDS epidemic hit the Caribbean in the late ‘70s. By 2001, it had become the second-most affected region in the world with an estimated 420,000 people – more than two percent of the adult population – living with HIV, according to a UNAIDS/WHO report. That year, a group of Caribbean nations created the Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV/AIDS (PANCAP) to help avert new infections and reduce deaths in the region by providing support for universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support services.
More than 15 years later, the Caribbean still faces numerous challenges in fighting the epidemic, notably socio-cultural and legislative discrimination against vulnerable populations, including men who have sex with men, female sex workers, and transgender people. Financial sustainability in an environment of reducing donor funds, which affects treatment access and quality, is another major uphill battle. UNAIDS estimates 310,000 people in the Caribbean are currently living with HIV.
PANCAP’s ambitious goal is to eradicate AIDS in the Caribbean by the year 2030.
Partnering with the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs’ Knowledge for Health (K4Health) project, PANCAP uses a knowledge management approach to address these major challenges. Shanti Singh-Anthony, MD, MPH, a knowledge management coordinator on PANCAP’s coordinating unit, recognizes that, “knowledge given to the right people, at the right time, in the right way, plays a significant role in changing disease progression and outcomes.” Formerly a medical practitioner treating patients with HIV/AIDS, a clinical director of Guyana’s largest HIV treatment site, and a national AIDS program manager, Singh-Anthony has seen first-hand the scope of HIV in the Caribbean at every level.
PANCAP’s knowledge management work primarily consists of leading digital and face-to-face conversations where national AIDS program managers, civil society organizations and partnership members have the opportunity to share best practices on 90-90-90, Treat All and effective models of care. UNAIDS’ 90-90-90 goal proposes that, by 2020, 90 percent of people living with HIV will know their HIV status; 90 percent of people diagnosed with HIV will receive sustained, quality HIV care; and 90 percent of people on antiretroviral therapy (ART) will achieve viral suppression, or an undetectable level of virus in the blood.
PANCAP’s active online presence also serves as a knowledge hub for the region.
Thanks to PANCAP’s efforts, the Caribbean has seen notable achievements in the scale-up of HIV testing, access to antiretroviral treatment, and prevention of viral transmission. Cuba, for instance, was the first country in the world to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
For PANCAP, “World AIDS Day is a time to step back and reflect on achievements and celebrate progress. More importantly,” Singh-Anthony stresses, “it is a time to reflect and understand what still has to be done and recommit to accelerating all efforts to end AIDS in the region.”
PANCAP is marking World AIDS Day, which is Friday, through a variety of events, including a special ceremony honoring Caribbean nations that have achieved “elimination of mother-to-child transmission” status as well as member-led awareness activities such as walks, health fairs, and outreach programs. PANCAP will also be donating a collection of nonperishable food items for people living with HIV and AIDS in Guyana to the country’s national AIDS program. This year’s UNAIDS “My Health, My Right” theme aligns with PANCAP’s belief that, “everyone in the Caribbean, irrespective of race, gender, socio-economic status, has the right to access high-quality health care and services.”