UNITED NATIONS,CMC – The United Nations has issued a new report underscoring what it describes as “the critical importance” of scaling up HIV testing worldwide, including the Caribbean.
Step up efforts
Titled “Knowledge is Power,” the UN said the report “presents evidence on progress made against AIDS thanks to early detection and treatment and calls on countries to step up their efforts.”
World AIDS Day will be observed on December 1.
UNAIDS executive director, Michel Sidibé, said, in order to reach the millions who do not know their status, “we need universal access to HIV testing services. “HIV testing should be as widely available as pregnancy testing.
Caribbean is second to Africa
The UN said the Caribbean is second to sub-Saharan Africa in the prevalence of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
The UN said recent years have seen some successes in the battle against HIV/AIDS. In 2017, it said 75 per cent of people living with the virus knew their status, up from 66 per cent in 2015.
“Encouragingly, at least four in five people aware of their condition have access to treatment currently,” the UN said, noting that the number of people with HIV who are “virally suppressed” – meaning that the HIV load in their blood has reached levels so low that the virus is undetectable — has increased from 38 per cent in 2015 to 47 per cent in 2017.
But the UN lamented that access to HIV viral suppression remains unequal worldwide. In some parts of the world, the UN said getting tested is “easy and fully integrated into a person’s antiretroviral treatment regime.” But in other places the UN said is close to impossible, with only one viral load testing machine for a whole country.
Viral load monitoring needed
“To reach the millions who are not virally suppressed, we need viral load monitoring to be as available in Lilongwe as in London,” Sidibé said, adding “HIV testing and viral load testing should be universal”.
In 2016, the UN General Assembly adopted a Political Declaration on Ending AIDS. In it, UN Member States, including those in the Caribbean, agreed to review and reform legislation that may create barriers or reinforce stigma and discrimination for people living with HIV or AIDS.
Since then, the UN noted that dozens of countries have passed legislation that explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of HIV status.
Legal barriers remain
Yet, the UN said country reports to UNAIDS over the past two years show that legal barriers remain in many countries, including the criminalization of same-sex acts; of sex work; of non-disclosure or transmission of HIV; as well as entry and stay restrictions for people living with HIV.
In addition, the UN said breaches of confidentiality in health-care settings still occur with alarming frequency.
“When news of one’s HIV-positive status result may lead to rejection, violence or criminal prosecution, the consequences of taking an HIV test or regularly visiting a health facility for medicine refills or viral load testing can appear worse than the consequences of avoiding these services,” according to the new UNAIDS report.