The Caricom Secretariat, in collaboration with the Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV & AIDS (PANCAP), has staged its 5th annual commemoration of World AIDS Day, being observed across the globe today, December 1.
The event has been in keeping with this year’s theme, which is the “Right to Health”; it zoomed in on the efforts made to allow for the much-needed access to health care for persons living with HIV & AIDS across the region.
This theme has been chosen because it has been recognised that although much strides have been made in bringing attention to this dreaded disease, persons who are infected are still not given equal access to health care services, like obtains with any other chronic disease. As such, this year’s observance is meant to bring attention to this issue.
Speaking at the ceremony hosted at the Caricom Secretariat on Thursday, Vivian Rookhum, Senior Officer attached to the Coordinating Unit of PANCAP, in his address on behalf of the PANCAP Director, indicated that the initiative is aimed at highlighting that everyone has the right to the highest attainable health care without discrimination and stigma. This, he noted, is echoed in a wide array of international commitments.
He outlined the significant accomplishments of his organisation, particularly as relates to the fight against HIV & AIDS.
“Since its establishment in 2001, PANCAP has seen many successes, including the sharpest regional decline in HIV incidents — by 48.1% between 2001 and 2013; decline in AIDS-related deaths by 50% from 2000 to 2016; and ARV (Anti-retroviral drugs) coverage increased to 52% from less than 5% in 2001,” relayed Rookhum.
This, he noted, is paired with capacity building of health care providers across the region.
The PANCAP official further pointed out: “Despite the overall gains, considerable challenges remain for the Caribbean, which (still) has an unacceptably high HIV prevalence among key populations. While 64% of people living with HIV knew their status in 2016, 36% did not; 52% are on treatment, while 48% are not.”
With that in mind, he contended that in order for there to be further reductions in AIDS-related mortality and transmission, there must be increased efforts at providing services and awareness where HIV is more heavily concentrated.
“Achieving universal access to comprehensive, high quality, integrated HIV prevention and treatment services requires inclusive and harmonised multi-sectorial action, including the removal of legal, social and cultural barriers,” expressed Rookhum.
Echoing similar sentiments was Deputy Secretary General of Caricom, Manorma Soeknandan. During her remarks, she indicated, “While we have been dealing with this devastating disease, HIV/AIDS, for over three decades, it has taught us many lessons.”
Soeknandan elaborated, “The AIDS response leveraged rights, expanded access to life saving medicines, expanded health systems, and increased access to acceptable and quality health and social protection services without discrimination or coercion.”
Moreover, she underscored that strides made for the prevention of HIV and AIDS have paved the way for improved health care services for other chronic and non-communicable diseases.
Meanwhile, this event aligns with Caricom’s years-long tradition of reflecting on the regional campaign to stamp out HIV and AIDS, while assessing the efficiency of avenues available for the provision of health care services to those affected by the disease. Each year, this local aspect of World AIDS Day observance is marked by making a donation to the National Aids Programme Secretariat (NAPS) in offering assistance to persons living with HIV and AIDS.