UNAIDS’ effort to Fast Track HIV programmes in the Caribbean are now based in Jamaica. During a visit to the island this past week (November 9th and 10th), UNAIDS Executive Director, Michel Sidibé thanked Foreign Affairs Minister, A.J. Nicholson, for facilitating the establishment of a Sub-regional UNAIDS team responsible for offering technical support and coordination to Caribbean AIDS responses.
Noting that Jamaica has helped shape the regional approach to HIV, Sidibé pointed to several of the country’s successes. According to Ministry of Health data, since 2000 new infections have decreased by 50%. In the last decade Jamaica achieved a 46% decline in AIDS-related deaths. Also over the last ten years the rate of HIV transmission from mothers to their babies fell from 10% to under 2%.
“Soon you can be validated as having eliminated mother to child HIV transmission. It is very important to say that a generation without AIDS is part of your legacy,” Mr Sidibé told newly-appointed and former Health Ministers, Horace Dalley and Dr Fenton Ferguson. He urged the Ministry to accelerate the process to be validated by the World Health Organization as having eliminated HIV transmission from mothers to children.
Currently seven in ten people living with HIV in the country know their status (72%). The Health Ministry expressed confidence that it could reach the new UNAIDS Fast Track testing target—90% of people living with HIV aware of their status. The Ministry also announced that it was going to pilot “test and treat” at particular treatment sites. This is an approach in which people begin HIV treatment immediately after being diagnosed in order to improve their health and dramatically reduce the likelihood of passing on the virus.
Reaching the most vulnerable
During a meeting with the Executive Director, representatives from Jamaican civil society organisations expressed concerns about obstacles to sexual and reproductive health education and healthcare access for young people, the socio-economic and safety challenges of the communities they serve, and the financial sustainability of community organisations. They also identified groups that were not
being adequately serviced including girls in state care and adolescents who contracted HIV as children.
During his meetings with the Ministers of Health, Labour and Social Security and Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Mr Sidibé urged increased efforts to ensure that no one is left behind. He noted that deaths due to HIV are declining in all age groups except adolescents and that one in three new HIV infections will occur among men who have sex with men. The Executive Director encouraged increased collaboration with civil society and investment in these key communities.
“What is very important is a people-centred approach. It is about social justice… making sure justice for all becomes a reality for every single person, whatever your social status. We want that no one will die in Jamaica unnecessarily when we have life-saving medicines. People need to have access to services whether they are prisoners, sex workers, migrant populations, whatever. If we do not do that we will not sustain our gains and you can see a rebound,” Sidibé cautioned.
The UNAIDS head also visited the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition where he paid tribute to its late founder, Dr. Robert Carr.
Memorandum of Understanding with UWI
The University of the West Indies, Mona entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with UNAIDS to collaborate on research, training, policy development, curriculum development and monitoring and evaluation. Sidibé congratulated the University of the West Indies (UWI) on its long-term effort to expand the skills base in the Caribbean to respond to the HIV epidemic through research and training in health, economics and communication.
Fast Track Kingston
Sidibé discussed the Fast Track Kingston City Plan with Mayor Angela Brown Burke. Kingston will integrate HIV into its disaster management plan, address the issues facing women in the city and facilitate dialogue about eliminating stigma and discrimination. The City of Kingston will team with the French and United States Governments on plans to address the needs of the LGBT and homeless populations.