Efforts to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Caribbean by 2030, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), received a much-needed boost from faith leaders across the region when they met from Feb. 1-2, 2017, in Port of Spain, Trinidad, to find ways to reduce and eliminate spread of the virus.
The Caribbean is one of the most heavily affected regions in the world, with adult HIV prevalence about one percent higher than in any other region outside sub-Saharan Africa.
The two-day conference, which was supported by the Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV and AIDS (PANCAP), the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), brought together an estimated 55 religious leaders from 14 Caribbean countries, representing Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Bahá’í and Voodoo faiths.
The initiative was coordinated by the Planning Committee of Religious Leaders and PANCAP, and focused on the theme: Religious Leaders’ Contribution to the End of AIDS by 2030.
“Today we have the science to end this epidemic. What we lack is the social movement and will of communities. We need you in the faith community more than ever before. We know that religious organisations hold positions of trust at the centre of communities,” said Dr Luiz Loures, Deputy Executive Director of UNAIDS.
“This makes you uniquely positioned to provide services and support that extend beyond the reach of many public health systems. Through ongoing training and sharing, your capacity will be strengthened. UNAIDS is committed to supporting this process.”
Loures stressed that “as faith leaders, you have a powerful impact on the way communities think and act,” adding that their work to address stigma and discrimination in the wider community is critical.
“As you have affirmed during this consultation, HIV is a virus not a moral judgement. I urge all partners to collaborate and contribute based on our shared values relating to the inherent value of life, human dignity and compassion,” Loures said.
The HIV pandemic in the Caribbean is fuelled by a range of social and economic inequalities and is sustained by high levels of stigma, discrimination against the most at-risk and marginalised populations, and persistent gender inequality, violence and homophobia.
The main mode of transmission in the Caribbean is unprotected heterosexual intercourse – paid or otherwise. There is also a notable burden of infection among injecting drug users, sex workers and the clients of sex workers. Sex between men is also thought to be a significant factor in several countries, although due to social stigma, this is mainly denied.
The level of stigma and discrimination suffered by those infected and affected by the virus in the Caribbean helps drive the epidemic underground. This makes it difficult to reach many groups.
Participants at the Port of Spain meeting noted that the lessons learned from the successes of the AIDS response at the global level act as pathfinders for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (Agenda 2030), adopted by United Nations member states in 2015. [. . .]
Also see original article at http://www.unaids.org/en/resources/presscentre/featurestories/2017/february/20170210_caribbean