Change public health message about AIDS
Regional and international HIV experts have been tasked with developing strategies to engage the Caribbean on the “treatment as prevention” approach to HIV care which will put the region on track to end the AIDS epidemic.
Chairperson of The Caribbean Cytometry & Analytical Society’s (CCAS), Professor Clive Landis, says they are on the brink of being able to eliminate the AIDS epidemic, but notes that there is a gap between what the HIV experts know and what the public knows.
He says the public is still terrified of the disease and sees it as a death sentence and they have to challenge misconceptions and the fear that is driving stigmatising attitudes of people living with HIV.
Professor Landis was addressing the opening ceremony of CCAS expert summit, being held at the Almond Beach Resort in Speightstown from August 27 - 31.
“Fear and stigma rule hearts and minds - blocking people from learning their status and blocking them from getting and staying on treatment. If we recast the public health message and give people clear information, attitudes can turn around,” said Professor Landis.
UNAIDS Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Dr. César Núñez, noted that through the 2016 Political Declaration on ending AIDS, United Nations members states have agreed to adopt a Fast-Track strategy that involves increasing prevention, testing and treatment services while working to eliminate stigma and discrimination.
“People continue to get diagnosed late or die due to AIDS-related causes when testing and treatment services are available. Our reality is that the potential impact of game-changing scientific advances is being undermined by ignorance, fear, shame, prejudice and exclusion,” Dr. Núñez said.
Dr. Núñez called for partnerships to conduct more research on Caribbean HIV epidemics including epidemiological surveillance, sero-prevalence and key population studies. This, he said, would help countries better respond to the unique characteristics of their epidemics. He further called for strategies to address the specific vulnerabilities of young people, men, women, migrants, men who have sex with men, sex workers, transgender people, people who use drugs, prisoners and homeless people.
Over the next four days, the “Care to Cure” summit will explore other strategies to maximise the impact of HIV treatment, particularly among key populations.