Urgent AIDS plea
DIRECTOR for the UNAIDS multi-country office for the Caribbean, Dr Richard Amenyah, is urging governments in the region to allocate more money to support the work of civil society organisations (CSOs) who are at the forefront of the fight to tackle the spread of HIV/AIDS.
In a message to mark World AIDS Day, which is commemorated annually on December 1, Dr Amenyah warned that the Caribbean has a long way to go to create an environment that encourages meaningful community participation, which is vital for effective public health interventions to close the gaps in prevention and treatment for the region to get closer to ending AIDS by 2030.
He pointed out that while the Caribbean has made significant progress in addressing the HIV epidemic, it remains the region with the second highest HIV prevalence after sub-Saharan Africa due to myriad factors, including limited testing and treatment coverage among some groups, discrimination, and low levels of funding, among others.
“With HIV prevalence being 1.2 per cent among the general population, and even higher rates among key populations, stakeholders in various sectors, including public and private sectors, media, academia, and, importantly, civil society organisations have significant work to do to prevent new infections and put more people on treatment,” said Dr Amenyah.
“Today, in the ongoing response to HIV and AIDS in the Caribbean, the spotlight is firmly on communities of people living with and most affected by HIV as the driving force behind a transformative and inclusive response,” added Dr Amenyah.
He noted that this year marks the 35th annual World AIDS Day, which is being observed with a central theme, “Let Communities Lead”, because of the pivotal role CSOs play in spearheading initiatives that aim to bring an end to AIDS as a public health concern.
“We will fail to end AIDS as a public health threat if communities are not actively involved in scaling up HIV testing, treatment, and viral suppression to achieve undetectable levels which have already been achieved in Botswana, Eswatini, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe.
“CSOs play a pivotal role in representing the felt needs of the most vulnerable and marginalised populations, constrained by stigma, discrimination, and punitive laws limiting access to justice,” argued Dr Amenyah.
In Jamaica CSOs leading the fight against AIDS and supporting people living with HIV, including Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL) and the Jamaican Network of Seropositives (JN+), receive little or no direct financial support from the Government. Most of their money comes from international donors, such as the Global Fund.
That is underscored by Dr Amenyah who argued that despite progress many countries in the region do not finance community-led organisations adequately or human rights programming, hindering the achievement of targets outlined in the Global AIDS Strategy, especially the 10-10-10 targets — which deal with law reforms and elimination of stigma and discrimination as well as gender-based violence — and 30-80-60 targets which puts communities at the centre of the HIV response.
“Lessons learned from responding to HIV and the innovations in the global response to COVID-19 highlight the value of a community-led response in various aspects of public health. At the height of the pandemic response, communities deployed innovative strategies to ensure continuity of HIV services for at-risk and vulnerable key populations as well as people living with HIV,” said Dr Amenyah.
“This year’s World AIDS Day is a good time to celebrate these efforts and to also reflect on key lessons learned and further advocate for community-led responses that are people-centred, rights-based, and mutually accountable to end AIDS by 2030,” added Dr Amenyah.