L to R: UNAIDS Caribbean Regional Support Team Director, Ernest Massiah; UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Luiz Loures; St Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister, Denzil Douglas; United Nations Secretary General’s Special Envoy on HIV for the Caribbean, Edward Greene; Global Fund Executive Director, Mark Dybul; and United Nations Resident Coordinator for Jamaica, Arun Kashyap
KINGSTON, Jamaica (UNAIDS) -- The Caribbean response to HIV has known many successes in recent years. Since 2001 there has been a 54% decline in AIDS-related deaths while new HIV infections have dropped by 49%. Twenty times more people are accessing HIV treatment now than there were ten years ago. And several countries are on track to virtually eliminate new HIV infections among children by 2015.
However, stigma and discrimination are still hampering efforts to reduce new HIV infections, increase the numbers of people accessing antiretroviral treatment and ensure that all people living with HIV can live full and productive lives. Prejudice towards people living with HIV and other key populations such as men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers, people who use drugs, homeless people and prisoners, remains a major obstacle throughout the region.
“HIV is a by-product of social inequities,” said Carolyn Gomes, executive director of the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition at the Caribbean Consultation on Justice For All in Kingston, Jamaica. “We need a bottom-up approach. We have to find ways to be heard. We have to apply resources to what we know would bring about transformative change.”
The “Justice For All” initiative is meant to link the voices and actions of members of civil society with governments, faith communities and the private sector. It is an attempt to collectively propel Caribbean countries toward improving citizens’ access to justice and equity. It also aims to build alliances in order to increase awareness and support for human rights.
Coordinated by the Pan-Caribbean Partnership Against HIV and AIDS (PANCAP), the effort is led by the United Nations Secretary General’s Special Envoy on HIV for the Caribbean, Professor Edward Greene, supported by UNAIDS.
“The world now knows what to do to end this epidemic,” UNAIDS deputy executive director, Dr Luiz Loures told participants. “We have the tools but we have entered a phase in which some people are getting left behind. The Caribbean is part of this contradiction. The general epidemic is going down but there are still laws, attitudes and practices that stop us from achieving our goals.”
Loures encouraged participants in the consultation to choose concrete targets and milestones to chart their progress towards ending stigma and discrimination.
The executive director of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Mark Dybul, noted that this regional approach to building a culture of respecting human rights is unique.
"The Caribbean can become the leader in ending AIDS,” said Dybul. “We are at an historic moment when we can end AIDS as a public health threat. No other epidemic is pushing us to respond to one another differently and to embrace everyone, every small subset of people, as part of the human family.”
Greene identified key areas of focus including reducing gender inequality, promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights and repealing discriminatory laws that infringe human rights. Sex between men is a criminal offence in 11 nations in the region and several Caribbean countries prohibit aspects of sex work. Some countries also have laws that restrict entry on the basis of sexual orientation, HIV status and disability.
The prime minister of St Kitts and Nevis, Denzil Douglas, assured that “Justice For All” will be a focus of discussion for the region’s political leaders.