Officials Discuss HIV/AIDS In Caribbean During PANCAP Meeting

“Despite the gains associated with antiretroviral treatments (ART) over the last decade, HIV/AIDS remains the leading cause of death among young and middle-aged adults in the Caribbean, warns a new U.N. report” that was released during the 10th Annual General Meeting of the Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV and AIDS (PANCAP) that concluded on Tuesday, Inter Press Service reports (Richards, 11/3).

“According to a new UNAIDS report, The Status of the HIV epidemic in the Caribbean, there were between 210,000 and 270,000 people living with HIV in the Caribbean in 2008,” a UNAIDS article writes. “Haiti and the Dominican Republic account for about 70% of all people living with HIV in the region. In the English-speaking Caribbean, Jamaica is the country most affected by the epidemic, with an estimated 27,000 people living with HIV” (11/1).

“The report noted that while there has been a 40 percent decline in AIDS-related mortality in the Caribbean since 2001, half of those who need treatment cannot gain access,” IPS continues. “Between 2001 and 2008, there was no significant decline in the number of new HIV infections. Only a 4.8 percent decline was observed during that period and, with the increase in life expectancy, there was a nine percent increase in people living with the virus in the same period.” According to the news service, the report highlighted the impact of HIV on women in the region, noting that “women … especially young women – account for half of those with the virus” (11/3).

The report also highlights positive efforts against HIV/AIDS in the region, including the following facts: “More than 90% of pregnant women in 11 Caribbean countries are now tested for HIV every year. About 52% of pregnant women receive services for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, which led to an 18% reduction in new HIV infections among children in 2008,” according to UNAIDS (11/1).

Delivering the opening address to the PANCAP meeting, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan reflected on current funding challenges for global HIV/AIDS programs, according to the PANCAP press release. Though Annan said, “I remain an optimist,” he stressed, “I also recognize that maintaining and increasing funding for HIV/AIDS has not got any easier.” Annan also “said that while he believes countries should continue to press strongly for more funding, they must also do more to get the most benefit from each dollar spent,” according to the press release. “Since 2001, the Caribbean region has received approximately US$1.2 billion of grant and concessionary funding to fight HIV/AIDS,” the press release states (11/1). IPS includes comments by Annan on the need to think about new arrangements to help drive down the cost and increase access to medications to treat HIV/AIDS for the public (11/3).

During the meeting, officials also discussed the need to repeal the region’s laws that criminalize homosexuality, which officials believe keep men who have sex with men “from accessing counselling and testing services for HIV and AIDS,” the CMC/Jamaica Observer reports (11/2).

“The outgoing Chairman of PANCAP, St Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Denzil Douglas, said that the region could continue to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic by making a renewed commitment to revisit the discriminatory laws,” CMC/Jamaica Observer reports (11/2).

“Among men who have sex with men, HIV prevalence varies from an estimated 6.1 percent in the Dominican Republic to 32 percent in Jamaica. HIV prevalence among female sex workers – another key affected population in the region – varies from 2.7 percent in the Dominican Republic to 27 percent in Guyana,” IPS adds. “According to the UNAIDS report, HIV prevention programmes reach less than 40 percent of men who have sex with men and less than 50 percent of female sex workers in the region,” the news service writes (11/3).

UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe, noting the scope of laws that criminalize homosexuality, said, “It is a global issue and we need to address it in a very strategic manner. For me what is important in the case of the Caribbean is to review the laws because you have two-thirds of the countries in the Caribbean who have those punitive laws against most at risk populations,” Sidibe said, according to CMC/Jamaica Observer.

CMC/Jamaica Observer also includes comments by Annan and Douglas regarding the move to revisit the region’s laws (11/2).

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