TODAY is the 30th anniversary of the first World AIDS Day.
Every year, World AIDS Day is an occasion to remember the millions of people who have lost their lives to AIDS and its complications because they could not access HIV services or because of stigma and discrimination. While our region has come a long way in 30 years, there is still more work to be done.
In 2017, 9.4 million people living with HIV globally were not aware of their status. Worldwide, an estimated 19.4 million people living with HIV did not have a suppressed viral load last year, according to UN AIDS.
When it comes to the Caribbean, there were an estimated 310,000 people living with HIV in 2017. The region experienced 10,000 AIDS-related deaths last year. However, it is worth noting that these deaths have declined by 23 per cent since 2010. Still, in 2017, there were an estimated 15,000 new infections. New infections have decreased by 18 per cent in the region since 2010.
A great deal of work in promoting awareness of this issue has paid off. Seventy-three per cent of people living with HIV in the Caribbean were aware of their status in 2017. However, late diagnosis remains a challenge for several countries. In 2017, nearly a quarter of HIV diagnoses occurred among people with advanced HIV infection.
“The Caribbean must strengthen strategies for successful treatment including increasing viral load monitoring, scaling up support for organisations that provide psychosocial services to those on treatment, and working to reduce stigma and discrimination,” says UNAIDS Latin America and Caribbean Regional Support Team Director Dr Cesar Nunez.
At this stage, when the world is on the cusp of possibly eradicating this disease, there is no room for complacency. The biggest obstacle, however, remains the attitudes prevalent on our society, attitudes which discourage openness about sexuality as well as prejudicial attitudes in relation to high-risk people or those infected with HIV/AIDS.
Additionally, efforts must be made to implement plans and measures which have been identified as key. For example, we welcome PAHO’s framework for the elimination of mother-to-child transmission. Every year, about 2,100 children in Latin America and the Caribbean are born with HIV or contract it from their mothers. This need not be the case.
Today is a good moment for reflection on the way forward. The roadmap should involve a consolidation of efforts and a reprioritisation of the issue, not only on a regional level but also in terms of our local institutions and agencies.