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PAHO Says AIDS-related deaths, HIV infections declined significantly in the Caribbean in last decade

CMC – The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) says annual deaths from AIDS-related illnesses declined by 37 per cent from 2010 through 2019 in Caribbean countries, while new yearly infections from the HIV virus dropped by 29 per cent.

PAHO said that increased testing and improvement in delivery of lifelong antiretroviral treatment led to the decline in annual deaths from about 11,000 in 2010 to 6,900 in 2019.

The decline in infections resulted from various preventive measures, including use of medications taken before and after contact with someone with HIV, which are known as PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) and PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis).

PAHO said the number of infections dropped from about 18,000 in 2010 to 13,000 in 2019.

“In the last decade, the Caribbean countries have made significant progress in controlling HIV and AIDS. However, the COVID-19 pandemic is now endangering this hard-won success,” said PAHO Director, Dr. Carissa Etienne.

“We must work harder to move forward along the road to entirely eliminating AIDS, which causes untold human suffering,” she urged.

Dr. Etienne said continuing stigma around HIV and AIDS, as well as unequal access to health services, also deter progress toward eliminating the disease.

PAHO said that it has evidence that, since the pandemic struck, the number of people being tested for HIV in both the Caribbean and Latin America has dropped.

In the first six months of 2020, PAHO said there were about 4,000 fewer diagnoses of HIV in eight Caribbean and Latin American nations – Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Peru and St. Lucia – than there were in the first six months of 2019.

PAHO said the decline in testing means that people with undiagnosed HIV are unaware of their situation and not getting lifesaving antiretroviral treatment, potentially exposing others to HIV transmission.

“COVID-19 poses a clear challenge to HIV prevention, testing, treatment and health care services,” said Cesar Nuñez, regional director for UNAIDS.

“Any slowing down in provision of these services will leave many vulnerable populations at greater risk of HIV infection and AIDS-related death. Luckily, there are strategies to respond to these challenges, including self-testing and dispensing multiple months of medication at a time, which reduce the number of visits that patients must make to their health care providers. But we must make sure these strategies are being implemented,” he added.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and PAHO have recommended self-testing as a key strategy for reaching the UN goal of having 90 percent of people with HIV know their status.

PAHO said self-testing, in which individuals collect their own specimens and test them, increases patient autonomy, decentralises HIV services and creates demand for HIV testing among those who have not been reached by other services.

For World AIDS, PAHO said it is collaborating with UNAIDS in launching a widespread public information campaign to increase awareness about the availability of self-testing and, as a result, demand for it.

In another sign of long-term progress in the Caribbean, PAHO said the percentage of children born to mothers with HIV who are infected with the virus declined to 12 percent in 2019 from 22 percent in 2010.

PAHO said the finding coincides with the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis in Cuba, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, and most recently Dominica in 2020.

“These extraordinary achievements also appear to be under threat due to COVID-19 and must be protected during this phase of intense response to the pandemic,” PAHO warned.

It said the percentage of people with HIV who receive antiretroviral treatment rose to 63 percent in 2019 in the Caribbean, compared to 22 percent in 2010.

The percentage of women with HIV who are getting lifelong antiretroviral treatment, which decreases the risk of their children being infected, rose to 86 percent in 2019 in the Caribbean, compared to 42 percent in 2010, PAHO said.

It also said that the percentage of children with HIV who are receiving antiretroviral treatment rose from 42 percent in 2017 in the Caribbean to 44 percent in 2019.

Among people living with HIV in both Latin America and the Caribbean, PAHO said 53 percent have been able to control the amount of virus in their system through antiretroviral treatment.

PAHO said about 330,000 people in the Caribbean are living with HIV.

As part of the UN’s sustainable development goals, PAHO said it is working with countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to end HIV as a public health threat by 2030.

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