This country has made “very little progress in reducing HIV and AIDS through education, resources and necessary support in the context of global trends,” according to Nikoli Edwards, executive chairperson T&T Youth.
Since 2016, Edwards said he had been able to witness the operations of HIV or STD/STI clinics in more developed countries around the world and there was absolutely no reason why T&T had not raised its standard.
“This was especially concerning for a country with such a small population, but one that exists in one of the most at-risk regions,” he said.
Edwards, who attended various forums since then—that dealt with Comprehensive Sexuality Education and Adolescent and Youth Sexual and Reproductive HealthCare in places such as Norway and more recently in Washington, USA as well as locally, said T&T has a long way to go based on the information being shared on the world stage.
He was speaking ahead of December 1, when T&T will join the world in commemorating World Aids Day, under the theme for the observance is “Know your status.”
UNAIDS has estimated that at the end of 2017, there were 11,000 adults and children living with HIV in T&T.
University of Chicago Prof Dexter Voisin in his journal, Psychocultural Factors Associated with HIV Infection Among T&T Adolescents, said, the Caribbean region ranked highest in terms of reported HIV incidence in the Americas and was second in the world.
He said T&T was disproportionately affected by HIV compared with the rest of the English-speaking Caribbean and the fastest growing HIV risk group was adolescents ages 15 to 24, among which females were especially vulnerable.
One of the events planned for that day is the Walker Lela Foundation screening of Part 1 of the Positive Film Series Positive and Pregnant directed by Candice Lela Rolingson, at Nalis, at 10 am and 1 pm, on November 29.
Casting call for Part 2 of the Positive Film Series The male perspective is on December 1 at Nalis.
There is an estimated 2.1 million people were living with HIV in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2017 (1.8 million in Latin America and 310,000 in the Caribbean), according to global statistics.
And there are 100,000 new infections in Latin America and 15,000 in the Caribbean, annually.
Some 47,000 people died from AIDS-related illnesses (37,000 in Latin America and 10,000 in the Caribbean), last year.
In 2017, 73 per cent of people living with HIV in the Caribbean were aware of their HIV status, an increase from 66 per cent in 2016. About 181,000 people were accessing anti-retroviral drugs, equivalent to 57 per cent of people living with HIV.
Despite its small population size, the Caribbean has a high HIV prevalence globally at 1.2 per cent (West and Central Africa stands at 1.9 per cent and the highest prevalence global is in East and Southern Africa at 6.8 per cent.
There are many barriers to HIV testing and UNAIDS estimates that more than 9.4 million people living with HIV still do not know their status.
Stigma and discrimination deter people from taking an HIV test. Access to confidential HIV testing remains an issue of concern.
Many people get tested only after becoming ill and symptomatic. This leads to HIV treatment being initiated late, undermining its many benefits for both treatment and prevention.
At the same time, there are many new opportunities to expand access to HIV testing. Self-testing, community-based testing services, and multi-disease testing are helping people to know their HIV status.
HIV testing programmes must be expanded. For this, political will and investment are needed, as well as novel and innovative approaches to HIV testing that are fully leveraged and taken to scale.
Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh attributed six major policy interventions in mitigating the disease in T&T.
They are the National Aids Coordinating Committee (NACC) was moved from the Ministry of Health to the Office of the Prime Minister, giving a greater priority and access to resources, in November 2015.
In May 2016, the country signed on to a UNAids agreement to eliminate the spread of the virus by 2030.
A $7 million investment in Cellma, a health industry software for monitoring patient data.
Negotiating with the US Embassy for access to funds from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), to the amount of US$250,000, granted to the Medical Research Foundation of TT (MRF) for their Aids clinics.
Changing the supplier of anti-retroviral drugs from a central tender to the PAHO strategic fund, resulting in an annual savings of $70 million.
Nine million dollars allocated every year for five years, approved by Cabinet, for viral load testing machines.
He said the Government provides free clinics, counselling and most importantly free anti-retroviral drugs to anyone diagnosed with the disease.
Deyalsingh said as part of the UNAids pact, T&T had also agreed to a 90-90-90 goal, where by 2020, 90 per cent of those infected should know their status, 90 per cent of that number should be put on anti-retroviral drugs and 90 per cent of that should have their viral loads suppressed.