Increased access to antiretroviral medicines during pregnancy has allowed for Guyana to be named among
13 Caribbean territories that are on track to be certified as having eliminated HIV transmission from mothers to children.
This is according to UNAIDS (Caribbean), which has underscored that there are currently three other territories that are close to reaching this goal.
According to UNAIDS too, over the last decade, countries have successfully increased access to antiretroviral medicines during pregnancy, which has served to empower women to make informed decisions about their health and that of their children.
It was pointed out that national validation processes are underway throughout the region to confirm reported rates, making it likely that by 2015, a Caribbean country will be the first in the world to announce that it has ended HIV transmission to babies.
“This region was the first to eliminate polio and measles,” UNAIDS Caribbean Regional Support Team Director, Dr. Ernest Massiah said. “These successes would not have been possible without political commitment. We need the same will to end mother-to-child HIV transmission. The question is which country will be first.”
Before treatment was available, at least one in four babies born to HIV-positive women in many Caribbean countries was infected with HIV. Today Anguilla, Barbados, Cuba, Guyana, Montserrat and St Kitts and Nevis, have all shown that they have reached the elimination target of below two percent transmission. Guyana’s transmission rate currently stands at 1.6 per cent.
Bonaire, the Cayman Islands, Curacao, Dominica, Saba, St Eustatius, St Kitts and Nevis and St Maarten have not had an HIV-positive baby on record in the last four to 10 years, but must finalise their documentation, according to UNAIDS.
The Bahamas, Jamaica and Suriname currently have transmission rates between two and five percent while Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Haiti and Trinidad and Tobago lag behind with more than five percent of children born to mothers living with HIV becoming infected. The Dominican Republic, Grenada and St Lucia have insufficient information.
“No child living in the Caribbean should be born with HIV,” Massiah said. “We must look carefully at how we can protect and empower women so that they go to clinic early, get tested, get treated, and follow-up with their babies.”
Currently there is global consensus that there should be increased focus on young women, and men who have sex with men, to close the gap and end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.
Moreover, ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030 is possible, but only by closing the gap between people who have access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services and those who are being left behind, according to UNAIDS. In the Caribbean, also, those already living with HIV must be able to access the services they need.
New data from UNAIDS point to public support for giving young people age-appropriate sex and sexuality education in schools, as well as access to condoms and contraceptives. Public opinion polls commissioned by UNAIDS in Belize, Grenada, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago, show that the majority are in favour. Nine in 10 respondents think that child abuse and domestic violence are problems throughout in their countries.
Addressing the lack of knowledge, it has been deduced that making sexual and reproductive health services and social protection available to young women can help reduce their vulnerability to HIV.
CARIMIS, an online study of men who have sex with men in the Caribbean, found that while respondents who were “out” tended to exhibit better health-seeking behaviour, those who were not, were less vulnerable to homophobic abuse. Within the past month of responding to the survey, one in three had been stared at or intimidated, and one in four experienced verbal insults or name-calling. One in 10 reported being physically assaulted in the past five years.
The polls found that the majority of people disagree with treating others differently because of their sexual orientation and recognise violence against homosexuals as a form of discrimination. Public engagement on equality and non-violence is central to not just the security and well-being of men who have sex with men, but also the Caribbean’s ability to end the AIDS epidemic.
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