Guyana will make HIV discrimination illegal, protect LGBTQ+ persons – President tells UN

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Guyana’s President, Dr Irfaan Ali on Tuesday assured a United Nations High-Level Meeting on Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) that his Government is committed to universal health care, to making discrimination against the virus illegal and to protecting vulnerable groups such as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ+) persons.

According to the President in his address, the Government of Guyana is fully committed to providing universal access to prevention, care and treatment for everyone living with HIV or those who are especially vulnerable to HIV infection.

He noted that the Government was intent on not only making discrimination against those infected with HIV unacceptable, but also illegal and punitive – policies that will be enforced throughout society, including Government, the Private Sector and civil society.

At present, Guyana has a Prevention of Discrimination Act that does not specifically address discrimination based on someone’s HIV status. Other laws, however, do speak to the equal rights of persons living with HIV, including the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

President Ali explained that the Government was also intent on reaching vulnerable groups such as LGBTQ+ persons, sex workers and immigrants; integrating mental health into all HIV policies and programmes and transforming the current paper-based HIV monitoring system into an Information Technology (IT) system. It is an assurance that comes as the world observes pride month.

Ali explained that Guyana, which he noted has one of the best HIV programme results in the Caribbean, is keen on ensuring that these areas of focus are reflected in the 2021 Political Declaration made by the UN. In recounting the strides Guyana has made, the President admitted that the country missed the UN’s 2020 90-90-90 target.

The 90-90-90 target speaks to a UN goal that countries had aimed for, that by 2020, 90 per cent of all HIV-infected people would know their status, 90 per cent of them who know their status would receive sustained antiretroviral therapy and 90 per cent of those persons would have viral suppression.

“A total of 95 per cent of those living with HIV have been diagnosed, while 73 per cent who are aware of their HIV status are on treatment, and almost nine out of every ten of these were virally suppressed. Over the past 20 years, Guyana has reduced new HIV infections by more than half…. In the 2021-2025 period, Guyana is committed to reaching the new UNAIDS global 95-95-95 goal.

“Guyana has already embarked on a comprehensive Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis programme, ensuring that anyone, anywhere in Guyana, who is at risk of an HIV infection, can access Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. Another innovative focus of our comprehensive response is increasing self-testing,” he said.

According to the President, Guyana has already integrated testing, diagnosis, and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases into the primary health-care system. In addition, the Government is committed to the elimination of gonorrhoea and syphilis in our maternal population. But he also urged the international community to step up its support in order to end the HIV pandemic.

“As we gather again for another High-Level Conference on HIV, as we observe the 25th anniversary of the formation of UNAIDS, the global inequity that facilitated AIDS to leave a trail of death for 40 years is very much evident as we combat the COVID-19 pandemic. The truth is we still live in two very different worlds. COVID-19 vaccine inequity is a moral dilemma.”

He noted that the 2021 Political Declaration emanating out of the meeting must ensure funding for UNAIDS and the Global Fund, adding that the 2021 High-Level Meeting must become a trigger for concerted and sustained action over the next decade so as to root out the conditions which contribute to and fuel the HIV pandemic.

The High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS, which was launched in accordance with General Assembly resolution 75/260, runs from June 8-10, 2021, in the General Assembly Hall, at the UN Headquarters in New York.