Thirteen Caribbean countries including Guyana are on track to be certified as having eliminated HIV transmission from mothers to children while three are close to reaching this goal, UNAIDS Caribbean said in a statement to mark World AIDS Day 2014.
Over the last decade, countries have successfully increased access to antiretroviral medicines during pregnancy and empowered women to make informed decisions about their health and that of their children. National validation processes are underway throughout the region to confirm reported rates, making it likely that by 2015 a Caribbean country will be the first in the world to announce that it has ended HIV transmission to babies.
“This region was the first to eliminate polio and measles,” UNAIDS Caribbean Regional Support Team Director, Dr. Ernest Massiah said. “These successes would not have been possible without political commitment. We need the same will to end mother to child HIV transmission. The question is which country will be first.”
Before treatment was available, at least one in four babies born to HIV positive women in many Caribbean countries was infected with HIV. Today Anguilla, Barbados, Cuba, Guyana, Montserrat and St. Kitts and Nevis all have shown that they have reached the elimination target of below two percent transmission. (Guyana’s transmission rate is 1.6%.) Bonaire, the Cayman Islands, Curacao, Dominica, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Kitts & Nevis and St. Maarten have not had an HIV positive baby on record in the last four to ten years, but must finalise their documentation.
The Bahamas, Jamaica and Suriname currently have transmission rates between two and five percent. Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Haiti and Trinidad and Tobago lag behind with more than five percent of children born to mothers living with HIV becoming infected. The Dominican Republic, Grenada and St. Lucia have insufficient information.
“No child living in the Caribbean should be born with HIV,” Massiah said. “We must look carefully at how we can protect and empower women so that they go to clinic early, get tested, get treated and follow-up with their babies.”
Increased focus needed on young women and men who have sex with men to close the gap and end the AIDS epidemic by 2030
Ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030 is possible, but only by closing the gap between people who have access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services and those who are being left behind. In the Caribbean more must be done to prevent HIV among young women, sex workers and men who have sex with men. Those already living with HIV must also be able to access the services they need.
New data from UNAIDS point to public support for giving young people age-appropriate sex and sexuality education in schools as well as access to condoms and contraceptives. Public opinion polls commissioned by UNAIDS in Belize, Grenada, St, Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago show that the majority of people support giving youths access to age-appropriate sex and sexuality education as well as access to condoms and contraceptives. Nine in ten respondents think that child abuse and domestic violence are problems throughout in their countries. Addressing the lack of knowledge, sexual and reproductive health services and social protection available to young women can help reduce their vulnerability to HIV.
CARIMIS, an online study of men who have sex with men in the Caribbean, found that while respondents who were out tended to exhibit better health-seeking behaviour, those who were not were less vulnerable to homophobic abuse. Within the past month of responding to the survey, one in three had been stared at or intimidated and one in four experienced verbal insults or name-calling. One in ten reported being physically assaulted in the past five years.
The polls found that the majority of people disagree with treating others differently because of their sexual orientation and recognise violence against homosexuals as a form of discrimination. Public engagement on equality and non-violence is central to not just the security and well-being of men who have sex with men, but also the Caribbean’s ability to end the AIDS epidemic.