Though the Caribbean region has made significant strides against the spread of HIV and AIDS, female sex
workers and men who have sex with men (MSM) continue to be key groups severely affected by the disease.
This is according to Director of the Pan Caribbean against HIV and AIDS (PANCAP), Derek Springer, who said during a forum yesterday, that one of the organisation’s main challenges remained dealing with sex workers and MSM.
“MSM and sex workers continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV,” Springer said. “Our adult prevalence in the Caribbean is approximately one per cent but when compared to men who have sex with men, we have as high as 33 per cent in Jamaica. We also have seen a high of 11 per cent in the Dominican Republic,” he added.
However, he said, there are “encouraging signs”, particularly in Guyana where the prevalence rate is dropping.
According to AIDS Programme Secretariat (NAPS) Programme Manager, Dr. Shanti Singh, much of Guyana’s successes are due to concerted efforts by the country to deal with the HIV/AIDS epidemic. She said that last year, Guyana tested more than 58,000 persons. Of that figure, 13 per cent was from the key population, including sex workers, MSM, and miners.
Singh said, too, that Guyana has in turn significantly increased its services to key population.
“We reached over 3,000 female sex workers for 2014, we reached over 3,000 men who have sex with men, and we increased the numbers reaching miners and loggers,” the NAPS head said.
Guyana has seen the rollout of antiretroviral (ARV) treatment to 70 per cent of eligible persons, resulting in major reductions in deaths due to AIDS and the improvement of the quality of life for people living with HIV. This is a far cry from 2001 when eligible persons receiving ARVs stood at five per cent.
Similarly, throughout the region, countries have strengthened their health systems and scaled up preventative treatments, care and support systems, Springer said.
“PANCAP has been able to work with our partners and deliver on regional public goods,” Springer said. He added that a key initiative would be the Model PANCAP Anti-Discrimination legislation.
This legislation, he said, has been shared and PANCAP has been working with these nations to adapt it.
Springer emphasised that discrimination against sex workers and MSM remained an issue plaguing the HIV/AIDS fight.
In response, PANCAP developed the Justice for All programme and is working with its member countries and partners to address the elimination of stigma and discrimination. The programme also addresses the need for modification and repeal of discriminatory laws “that prevent people from accessing prevention, care and treatment services”.
The programme also identified 15 actionable items including the repeal of the buggery law along with the improvement of services for persons with disabilities.
During a recent forum, Ministry of Health Parliamentary Secretary, Joseph Hamilton, indicated the
need for the removal of taboos traditionally held by Guyanese, particularly in dealing with persons from the LGBT community.
“While we may be doing good in the general population, we have the key population to address; we were neglecting to focus on these,” Hamilton said.
“For us to be successful in dealing with that population, we have to leave our religion at home…We would not be able to be successful if we carry our religion with us when we engage key persons.”
Springer added that efforts by both governmental and non-governmental bodies to reduce stigma and discrimination are ongoing at the country level. “We need to recognize that we live in a diverse world and that we therefore need to get to the point where we can respect differences,” Springer said.
Springer said that PANCAP met with five pharmaceutical corporations and secured significant reductions in the prices of ARVs. PANCAP also continues to work with other partners to reduce prices.
Springer emphasised that the fight against HIV/AIDS must be waged through a multi-sectorial approach. This approach, he said, is a “shared responsibility”.
“HIV and AIDS is not a health problem but one which transcends and therefore it has to be tackled by different partners. Therefore it’s important that we work with all countries to engage partners at the national level so they understand their role and their shared responsibility in addressing HIV,” Springer said.
Over the years, the Caribbean has been making strides in addressing HIV/AIDS. In a decade, the HIV incidence declined 49 per cent and accounts for the sharpest decline when compared to any other region in the world.
HIV prevalence in the Caribbean is also now down to one per cent within the general population.
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