AIDS is much more than a medical problem. It lays bare social and economic conditions, the inequities, harmful norms, discrimination and marginalization, that have always been at the heart of the epidemic. These words from UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner highlight what’s still behind the efforts to eradicate HIV/AIDS, 30 years after the world first marked the first AIDS Day.
Today, wile impressive gains have been made in scaling up access to treatment, we have not seen the same success in HIV prevention and we are failing to reach marginalized populations.
This year’s theme “know your status” focusses on the importance of HIV testing as a gateway to HIV prevention and treatment. One in every four people living with AIDS is unaware of their positive status. That’s or 9.4 million people unaware of their status.
Breaking the stigma in Latin America and the Caribbean
The HIV epidemic in Latin America and the Caribbean remains an important public health challenge. While the number of people with HIV in the region has decreased slightly due to increased access to antiretroviral treatment, structural factors such as stigma and discrimination, gender inequality and the presence of punitive laws continue to limit progress towards eliminating the epidemic.
Despite its proportionately small population size, the Caribbean has the second highest HIV prevalence rate globally, after subSaharan Africa. In the Caribbean, where same sex acts are largely illegal, sex work is criminalized and key populations experience high levels of stigma, discrimination and violence. New HIV infections have risen by nine percent between 2010 and 2015 and, in addition, in 2016 an estimated 17,000 people were newly infected. Almost half of the people in the Caribbean affected with AIDS are living in Haiti- one of the few countries in the region lacking comprehensive sexual education in primary and secondary schools. The region has also witnessed progress. In Cuba, now less than 1 percent of men who have sex with men reported avoiding an HIV test.
· In collaboration with the Pan-Caribbean Partnership Against HIV/AIDS, UNDP successfully organized a regional forum of 50 parliamentarians focusing on key populations and HIV. As a result, Caribbean Members of Parliament agreed to advocate for a broad-based stakeholder engagement to address issues affecting key populations with emphasis on stigma, discrimination and HIV transmission.
· Meanwhile, the United Nations has implemented a regional transgender coalition as a resource and tool for those advocating for human and social justice rights within the realm of HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean.
· UNDP, in addition to UNAIDS, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, has remained committed to ending the spread of HIV/AIDS. The measures pushed forward have resulted in successfully awarding 811,000 pregnant women with antiretrovirals to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission as well as testing over 40 million people.
As we continue to fight this once seemingly insurmountable problem, we must continue to emphasize education and destigmatization along with prevention, attention and care. In the words of UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner: To reach our goal of ending AIDS by 2030, let’s commit to stepping up efforts to address health inequities and promote universal access to HIV and health services that leave no-one behind. After 30 years, we have much to be proud of — and still so much to do.”