CASTRIES, St Lucia (CMC) — A senior official of the Caribbean Cytometry and Analytical Society’s (CCAS) says while the region has embraced the power of antiretroviral treatment and viral suppression to prevent HIV infections in new born babies, there is inadequate understanding among the general public about how successful treatment can also reduce sexual transmission.
“Despite our achievements in tackling the HIV epidemic, we are not done. Everyone in society must know and understand and believe that HIV is not a death sentence and further, understand that persons living with HIV who have suppressed virus due to treatment are not infectious,” said CCAS chairperson, Professor Clive Landis.
Addressing the launch of the 15th annual CCAS expert summit, titled “From Care to Cure – Towards the Elimination of HIV”, Landis said that treatment as prevention” is an approach to HIV treatment which forms the basis of a global commitment to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals.
“It is hinged on the finding that diagnosing and treating people early and lowering the level of the virus in their blood to undetectable levels (viral suppression) virtually eliminates the risk that they will transmit HIV to other people,” he told delegates on Monday night.
UNAIDS Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Dr. César Núñez, noted that through the 2016 Political Declaration on ending AIDS, United Nations members states have agreed to adopt a fast-track strategy that involves increasing prevention, testing and treatment services while working to eliminate stigma and discrimination.
Núñez shared the latest HIV data which show that the Caribbean must accelerate progress if it is to meet the target that will set it on track to end the AIDS epidemic by year 2030.
According to the UNAIDS 2018 Global AIDS Update, there were an estimated 310,000 people living with HIV in the Caribbean at the end of 2017. Seventy-three per cent of people living with HIV in the region were aware of their status.
The figures show that of all people living with HIV, 57 per cent were on treatment and 40 per cent were virally suppressed.
But UNAIDS noted that to reach the targets that will set the Caribbean on track to end AIDS, the region must close the gaps in testing and treatment.
The gap to achieving the testing target — 90 per cent of all people living with HIV diagnosed — was 54,800 people in 2017. The gap to achieving the second target — 90 per cent of diagnosed people on treatment — was 74,700 people. And the gap to achieving the third target — 90 per cent of people on treatment virally suppressed — was 103,000 people.
“Here in the Caribbean, the AIDS response is at a precarious point. There has been partial success in saving lives and stopping new HIV infections, but the pace of progress is not matching global ambition,” Núñez told the conference.
He said that between 2006 and 2017, international resources for the region’s AIDS response decreased by 16 per cent and that in 2017 just under half of the money needed to finance the achievement of the fast track programme in the region was not available.
Núñez called for increased national investments in HIV as part of a broader strategy to finance health.
The CCAS is a registered HIV Charity comprised of volunteers from the University of the West Indies, the Barbados Ministry of Health and the private sector. Its mandate is to train and educate healthcare providers for improved diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of HIV and AIDS in the Caribbean region by removing technical and social barriers to care.