Caribbean leading in reduction of mother-to-child transmission of HIV
Information sharing remains a major challenge in the Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS) response in the Caribbean. This notion has been highlighted by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). According to the body, countries must come to the recognition that there is value in the collection and sharing of information as it supports a more improved coordinated effort in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Nonetheless, the Caribbean has been the first champion of the global initiative to eliminate mother to child transmission of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) with Caricom States witnessing dramatic reductions in this mode of transmission. According to the Caribbean Community (Caricom), the Bahamas for example, recorded zero transmission in this regard last year.
Speaking in the capacity of Health Minister, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy, said that Guyana has for years now been embracing a trajectory of elimination. He said that Guyana is unequivocally committed to the UNAIDS global commitment to zero new transmission, zero mother-to-child transmission, zero deaths from HIV and zero stigma and discrimination as it relates to HIV/AIDS.
“We have already established, globally, the first milestone on this trajectory which is zero mother-to-child transmission by 2015. That is no longer a goal that Guyana stands alone with, this has become a global pact.”
In fact, Dr. Ramsammy noted that the Council of Human and Social Development (COHSOD) was instrumental in committing the Caribbean to this goal, a move which is being supported by the Global Health Initiative.
He said too that a decision was taken to gain collaborative input into addressing the way forward as it relates to achieving the ambitious trajectory, even as he underscored that the move is geared at examining how existing programmes in this regard can be scaled up and be sustained for the long haul.
“This is not a fight that is a two-year or a five-year project…this is our national health response, that must not only deal with the crisis that face us immediately but that must deal with other crises in the future while sustaining the gains that have already been made.”
However, it was noted that there are still challenges which must be addressed before “we (Member States) can achieve the other ‘zeroes’ challenges that confront us at both the country and regional levels and which require shared responsibility.”
The first challenge that has been outlined by Caricom is to ensure that member states are responding adequately and effectively to country needs, as there is no denying that stakeholders, especially at the country level, question the impact of some regional efforts on the ground. “We need to support countries to build the public/private non-governmental organization collaboration to achieve a more effective HIV and AIDS response.”
We also need to put in place mechanisms to give countries a greater voice in project formulation or to build flexibility in project implementation to ensure that outcomes match needs at the country level.”
Another critical challenge, which has been accentuated by Caricom, is that of resource mobilizations, particularly given the severe economic hardships being experienced by many countries as a result of the global recession. “As traditional funding streams for HIV dwindle, research grants and other competitive grants become important sources of funding. Additionally, we must pay greater attention to avoid duplication of effort in the regional response,” Caricom has asserted.
Meanwhile, the Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV and AIDS (PANCAP), is currently focusing on the aforementioned and other challenges in the regional effort to bring the impact of the disease to zero. Since its establishment in 2001, PANCAP has worked tirelessly to help alleviate the impact of HIV and AIDS in the Caribbean. With its multi-sectoral focus, PANCAP continues to bring together Governments, NGOs, private sector groups, faith-based organizations and donor agencies, to coordinate both treatment and prevention efforts in the Region. “There is no denying that PANCAP’s programmes have contributed and continue to contribute significantly to accelerating the HIV/AIDS response and agenda throughout the Region, and its presence and programming must be sustained,” a statement issued by the Caricom Secretariat noted.
World AIDS Day, which was commemorated on December 1, was observed with a focus on “zero” and according to Caricom, it was intended to be “an opportunity for all of us – individuals, communities and political leaders – to take action and ensure that we achieve the elimination of HIV/AIDS not only in the Caribbean but around the world.”
With a theme “Getting to Zero: Zero New infections; Zero Discrimination; and Zero AIDS Related Deaths”, World AIDS Day was commemorated with an urgent call to move beyond the traditional routine responses that have been employed in the past in fighting HIV and to use innovative and creative ways in reducing new HIV infections, deaths and discrimination.