No travel restrictions for Caribbean PLWHIV by 2015

(CARICOM Secretariat, Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown, Guyana) – Approximately 200 hundred delegates attending the Tenth Annual General Meeting of the Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV and AIDS held in St. Maarten ended their meeting on 2 November with a resolution calling for universal access to prevention, care and treatment at the centre of the HIV and AIDS response.

The ten-year old Partnership committed to eliminating by 2015 mother-to-child transmission and travel restrictions of persons living with HIV, increasing by 80 per cent access to care and treatment, decreasing by 50 per cent the number of new infections, and accelerating the human rights agenda.

The resolution also called for re-establishing “Champions for Change” to include parliamentarians, representatives of the private sector, faith-based organizations, youth, and cultural and sport icons. These champions for change throughout the Caribbean will be PANCAP advocates for reducing stigma and discrimination against PLWA.

Human rights violations as a result of stigma and discrimination continue to impede the Caribbean’s response to the epidemic. In the context of travel restrictions, several countries still impose some form of travel restrictions on the entry, stay and residence of people based on their HIV status.

On the issue of prevention and treatment, a recently-released study by UNAIDS on the status of HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean revealed progress in treatment with access to ARVs with more than half of the persons needing treatment getting it. This has resulted in a 40 per cent reduction in the number of AIDS-related deaths since 2001. And while indicative of the progress being made in reversing the epidemic, it is still far short of universal access.

Prevention programmes have not significantly reduced the number of new infections, and the report notes that in the period between 2001 and 2008, new infections declined by less than five per cent.

Further, trends in the Caribbean’s epidemic hide important and evolving dynamics such as the increasing number of infections among females, and the disparity among countries in this regard. According to the report, “…females living with HIV range from 26 per cent in the Bahamas to 59 per cent in Belize, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago. HIV prevalence is highest among men who have sex with men and among sex workers, yet the majority of persons in these population groups are not reached by prevention efforts”.

In his address to the opening ceremony of this Tenth AGM, Dr Michel Sidibé Executive Director of UNAIDS, said “universal access still eludes many Caribbean countries but is not unachievable…. It will take recommitment, shared among countries donors and partners [and] we must ensure promises old and new are kept”. The Executive Director challenged the people with HIV and AIDS to accelerate the fight against stigma and discrimination and urged the leadership of the Partnership to renew its commitment to universal access to prevention, care and treatment.

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