HIV is still present in TCI

HIV/AIDS is still very much present in the Turks and Caicos Islands, with nine new cases discovered so far this year and five last year. 

This is according to Director of Health Promotions and Advocacy Unit, Aldora Robinson.

Robinson was speaking with the media last week during a multisectoral committee meeting on HIV held at the Beaches Resort and Spa on November 10. 

The last reported statistics from the government was in 2018, showing that from 1984 until the end of 2017, 627 people were diagnosed with HIV in the Turks and Caicos Islands. 

At the end of 2017, there were a total of 514 persons living with HIV in the TCI with an estimated prevalence of 1.29% of the general population. 

The highest prevalence was observed among persons who were in the 65+ years age group in 2017. 

Robinson said: “We haven’t finished the year yet and the number nine is from August… so we know that HIV is still around in our small population, and there are things that we need to do to mitigate the effects of HIV here in the TCI.”

She said what they want to do is get back on track with the 90/90 targets, which is 90% of persons knowing their HIV status and 90% of persons having a viral load that is undetectable. 

“We want to see how we are going to get back on track and also end AIDS, because that is something that is doable, we want to end AIDS here in the TCI.”

One of the things TCI has been working on in recent times with regard to the virus, is the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and congenital syphilis. 

The director said: “We do have mothers that are HIV positive that are having children, so we want to show that we have eliminated mother to child transmission.” 

An HIV-positive mother can transmit HIV to her baby any time during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding.

In the absence of intervention such as treatment and medication, the rate of transmission of HIV from a mother living with HIV to her child during pregnancy, labour, delivery or breastfeeding ranges from 15% to 45%.

Updating Key Policies

Last week’s meeting discussed an array of issues related to the virus in the country, and putting in measures to assist those living with it. 

“This morning we are having a national HIV committee meeting… to discuss certain issues and challenges that face people living with HIV in the TCI, especially in light of Covid-19, where we have had challenges where persons weren’t able to access care as they normally would,” the director said. 

A consultant was recently hired by the health ministry to access and create avenues for better involvement of persons living with HIV in all aspects in the community, and Robinson said the thrust of the meeting was to review the recommendations set out by the consultant. 

Also up for discussion was the HIV policy, with an aim to update it making sure that it covers all the things that need to be covered, particularly discrimation in the workplace. 

In a video recorded message to the attendees, Minister of Health, Hon. Jamell Robinson said that having the right policies in place to drive the country’s efforts is critical and demands a partnership of government and its sectors, youth, key populations, community leaders, faith-based organisations and civil society. 

A message from UNAIDS earlier this year reads: “These are difficult times for all of us. UNAIDS is urging people to act with kindness, not stigma and discrimination – people affected by Covid-19 are part of the solution and must be supported.”

The organisation has urged governments to respect the human rights and dignity of people affected by Covid-19. 

They said: “The experiences learned from the HIV epidemic can be applied to the fight against Covid-19. 

“As in the AIDS response, governments should work with communities to find local solutions. Key populations must not bear the brunt of increased stigma and discrimination as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The pace of progress in reducing new HIV infections, increasing access to treatment and ending AIDS-related deaths is slowing down, UNAIDS said.

In 2020, across the world there were 1.5 million new infections, with a total of 37.7 million people living with HIV in that year, and 680 people who died of AIDS related illnesses. 

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