THIS WEEK’S commemoration of World Aids Day was seemingly far removed from Monday’s political events. But in truth there is a nexus between political action, whether on the local government or national level, and the public health issues posed by the HIV/Aids epidemic globally.
While many were focused on the political hustings and the cliffhanger, razor-tight results, a robust conversation about the need to sustain and expand forward-thinking policies was underway among key stakeholders. The politicians, including newly elected ones, should take careful note in order to better align the policies they hope to promulgate in 2020 and beyond.
According to Dr Cesar Nunez, the director of UNAIDS Latin America and Caribbean Regional Support Team, shrinking space and reduced funding is affecting HIV advocacy in the region, and communities must ensure AIDS advocacy remains on the political agenda.
“Greater mobilisation of communities is urgently required,” Dr Nunez said this week. “The strong advocacy role played by communities is needed more than ever to ensure that HIV/AIDS remains on the political agenda, that human rights are respected, and that decision-makers and implementers are held accountable.”
The director further noted community organisations in the Caribbean play a critical role in ensuring that HIV prevention, testing and treatment services get to the hardest-to-reach communities including poor people, youth, gay and other men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers and migrants.
The number of people contracting HIV/AIDS fell drastically from 1,000 per year in 2010 to less than 500 in 2016, and a lot of progress has also been made in areas such as mother-to-child transmission. Yet there are worrying indicators that some degree of complacency has begun to set in. For instance, research suggests condom use is very often not consistent, or there are segments of the population for whom unprotected intercourse is not a rare event. Stigma, in particular, remains a problem, even as many individuals with HIV/AIDS lead fully productive lives under existing and dramatically improved treatment options.
Communities need to intensify their advocacy in order for politicians to get the message. If we are serious about ending HIV/AIDS once and for all, we must keep up the fight. We must continue to educate all sectors of society. Furthermore, we must seriously consider the issues raised surrounding matters such as Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (Prep), which Colin Robinson of the Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO) this week flagged.
You cannot go to a pharmacy and buy the drugs in TT,” Robinson, a Newsday columnist, said. “You have to get them through the government – and the government will not give it to you unless you are HIV-positive. There is a global and regional acceptance for Prep which has already been implemented in Bahamas, Barbados and Guyana.” While there is ongoing debate about Prep’s side effects, this is a matter that should be subject to a robust review.