Pandemic hindering HIV and STI response
COVID-19 has created new challenges in the HIV and STI response, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Sub-regional Program Coordinator for the Caribbean, Jessie Schutt-Aine warned.
She said that the pandemic has created unprecedented conditions that hinder the capacity of many health systems to access COVID-19 related supplies but also other essential medicines, due to country lockdowns, travel restrictions, fragmented funding sources, and increased costs for certain commodities.
Her comments came during the Pan-Caribbean Partnership against HIV and AIDS (PANCAP), the mechanism that provides a structured and unified approach to the Caribbean’s response to the HIV epidemic, virtual meeting of National AIDS Programme (NAP) Managers, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and Key Partners, to discuss the challenges and strategies that are being implemented in the region to respond to the disruption of services posed by the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic.
The meeting examined the challenges experienced by the region in the delivery of services for HIV and AIDS in the context of COVID-19, the sustainability of the regional response amidst decreasing donor funding and the critical role of civil society in supporting the continuity of care and reaching key populations.
According to the PAHO official, “A recent study done by PAHO’s Strategic Fund has found that many countries in the Caribbean region are at imminent or high risk of stock out of essential medicines for HIV, STI, TB and other essential medicines.
This calls for the need to strengthen supply chain systems, including forecasting in the region”.
Dr James Guwani, UNAIDS Caribbean Sub-regional Office Director, highlighted that HIV stakeholders bring to the COVID-19 challenge almost 40 years worth of experience and wisdom in responding to a pandemic.
He stated “this is what we know – testing and treatment on their own will not ensure we combat either COVID-19 or HIV. Community involvement and investment are vital to building trust and getting results. There must be responsiveness to the lived realities, needs and vulnerabilities of all people, especially the most marginalised. And we have to embrace big, bold targets if we are to super-charge our response.”
Director of PANCAP, Dr Rosmond Adams emphasised the critical need for National AIDS Programme (NAP) Managers and Civil Society Organisations to share knowledge and innovations which are essential for the continuity of HIV services during the COVID-19 Pandemic. He thanked the participants for committing to the meeting and stated that he was pleased that PANCAP could provide the virtual platform essential for knowledge sharing about HIV and COVID-19. He further called for the exploration of new and innovative strategies and greater collaboration among governments, civil society, private sector and community-based organi-sations with the overarching aim of ending AIDS in the region.
The role of Civil Society Organizations was also underscored as they play a critical role in working at the community level to reach those most in need and to attend to the psychosocial needs of People Living with HIV.
Dr Adams noted that civil society is key at getting to the core of the epidemic and that they should be supported and must have an equal seat at the table as a vital stakeholder in the fight against HIV and AIDS.