Collaboration between National AIDS Programmes, communities and civil society is critical to ending AIDS. This is according to Dr Armstrong Alexis, Deputy Secretary-General, CARICOM, during the CARICOM Secretariat’s World AIDS Day observance today, 1 December.
Activities this year are being held under the theme “Let Communities Lead”.
Dr Alexis illustrated how the partnership between communities and national AIDS programmes proved critical to reaching vulnerable groups during the COVID-19 pandemic with HIV prevention and life-saving medication.
The Deputy-Secretary General also acknowledged the significant gains made in the HIV response highlighting that between 2010 and 2022, new HIV infections in the Region decreased by an encouraging 15%.
He called on national programmes and civil society stakeholders to strengthen their partnership and emphasised that it is only through this unique collaboration that the Region can realise the vision of an AIDS-free Caribbean.
Read his remarks below.
The 2023 observance of World AIDS Day is happening at a critical juncture for Public Health within our Region. We have seen how communities, particularly civil society, played an integral role in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many lives were saved thanks to the efforts of our National AIDS Programmes, strategically collaborating with community-based organisations and groups to reach the most vulnerable with life-saving HIV medication during the mandated COVID-19 lockdowns.
From this experience, our Region now has several best practices that could be applied to other Public Health initiatives, but the key to the approach is the central involvement of communities. Hence, the selection of “Let Communities Lead” – the 2023 Theme for World AIDS Day, could not be more appropriate.
Civil society has worked hand-in-hand with our Ministries of Public Health and National AIDS Programmes to ensure that vulnerable populations receive HIV prevention, treatment and care and, most recently, to ensure the continuum of care during the pandemic.
In fact, the mantra of “leave no one behind” aptly describes the strategic approach to the Region’s HIV response characterised by a unique synergy formed between Government and civil society organisations.
Today, we can proudly reflect on the progress made because of this successful collaboration and the tremendous work of our civil society partners. Between 2010 and 2022, new HIV infections in the Region decreased by an encouraging 15%, demonstrating the impact of the united efforts of government and civil society.
This decline was more pronounced among men (18%) than women (10%). Furthermore, the expansion of HIV treatment accessibility resulted in a remarkable 53% reduction in AIDS-related deaths during the same period, with this decline slightly favouring women (56%) over men (51%).
However, it is essential to note that despite these strides, challenges persist. In particular, addressing advanced HIV disease diagnosis remains an ongoing concern in the Region.
While the percentage of people living with HIV with suppressed viral loads increased from 39% in 2018 to 57% in 2022, viral load testing coverage fell below pre-COVID-19 levels, emphasising the need to address underlying inequalities and barriers, including HIV-related stigma.
Hence, the critical importance of creating an enabling environment for our civil society partners and community organisations to take the lead in fighting the stigma associated with HIV.
I encourage our policymakers and public health stakeholders to strengthen the partnership with civil society and to empower our communities to tackle the persistent challenge of stigma and discrimination.
We must continue to nurture and embolden our communities; it is only through this effective partnership we can achieve PANCAP’s Vision of an AIDS-free Caribbean by 2030.