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US Ambassador at LINKAGES launch

SASHA HARRINANAN Tuesday, December 13 2016

The LINKAGES project, launched locally yesterday by United States (US) Ambassador, John Estrada, aims to reduce the spread of HIV and to improve health care for key populations most at risk of, and already living with, HIV in the Bahamas, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago (TT) and Suriname.

LINKAGES partners with governments, communities and key populations in an effort to provide support and reduce HIV-related stigma and discrimination.

Funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), Linkages across the Continuum of HIV Services for Key Populations Affected by HIV (LINKAGES) is the first and largest project of its kind in the Caribbean.

USAID, in a statement issued on its behalf by the US Embassy, explained that “through funding and technical support, LINKAGES will share the best tools and strategies drawn from decades of global experience and adapted to local needs and conditions.” “This will help LINKAGES and its partner countries realise challenging but essential objectives: testing those who don’t know their HIV status; linking those living with HIV to quality care, treatment and support; and reducing new infections.

The programme will also address incidents of stigma and violence that place people at greater risk for HIV,” USAID stated.

Luke Sinnette, Director of Friends for Life; a Trinidad-based LINKAGES grantee, spoke about how crucial it is to include everyone in the HIV/AIDS fight.

“It is important to focus on key populations in the fight against HIV and we must not just do so in rhetoric. Inclusion of men who have sex with men, sex workers and transgender women must be done in ways that address their experiences and help heal their communities. This is the opportunity we have with the LINKAGES project,” Sinnette said.

Meanwhile the LINKAGES Director, Hally Mahler, said the project is about “passion, partnership and re-thinking the way we address HIV, with the end goal that all members of key populations in the Caribbean, and globally, will have access to comprehensive health care services and enjoy a high quality of life. LINKAGES is excited to work alongside local governments, international partners and local communities in these efforts.” Mission Director, USAID Eastern and Southern Caribbean, Christopher Cushing, talked about how the agency works with stakeholders to implement LINKAGES.

“USAID, as part of the broader PEPFAR initiative in Trinidad and the Caribbean, is proud to work hand-in- hand with Governments, Civil Society and the LINKAGES project to pilot innovative ways to expand access to life-saving HIV/ AIDS services to critically under- served and stigmatised populations,” Cushing shared.



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