GUYANA is closer today to meeting its UNAIDS 90–90–90 target as 86 per cent of all people living with HIV now know their status; 74 per cent of those diagnosed are receiving sustained antiretroviral therapy (ART) while 65 per cent of those on ART have achieved viral suppression.
This accomplishment forms part of the UN strategy which aims to diagnose 90 per cent of all HIV positive people; provide ART for 90 per cent of those diagnosed and achieve viral suppression for 90 per cent of those treated, by 2020.
The news of Guyana’s progress towards meeting its first goal was announced on Monday at the launching of ‘Know Your Status’ Guyana Campaign organised by the Ministry of Public Health’s National AIDS Programme Secretariat (NAPS).
Information provided showed that, at the end of 2017, Guyana was recorded as having some 8,215 living with HIV resulting in a 1.6 per cent population prevalence.
In the same year, around 75 per cent of those living with HIV in Guyana knew their status with the government serving as the largest funder of the HIV testing and treatment service.
Of this number, 7,100 were aware that they were HIV positive; 5,237 were receiving sustained treatment and 3,414 were found to be virally suppressed.
“Clearly you can see from this that Guyana is not too far away from achieving the first 90. However, we have a lot more work to do in achieve the second and the third 90,” said NAPS Programme Manager Dr. Rhonda Moore.
“We still have some 13.6 per cent of persons that are still unaware of their status. These are the persons that we really need to reach out to ensure that they seek the testing service.”
Addressing the gathering in the NAPS compound she added that while men test less for HIV, Deputy Programme Manager Dr. Nicolette Boatswain said that men, more than women, are found to be HIV positive.
In addition, the age groups 25-49 and 15-19 are still the most affected by HIV while the 30-34 age groups continues to be the group receiving late diagnosis therefore accounting for the most deaths in 2017.
Meanwhile, marginalised communities account for the most positive tests of HIV and multiple sexual partners continue to be one of greatest contributors to HIV.
In her presentation, Dr. Moore reminded HIV positive persons that comorbidities such as high blood pressure and diabetes can become more aggressive with the presence of HIV which is why these should receive similar attention.
The theme of this year’s World AIDS Day, to be observed on December 1, is similarly ‘Know Your Status’ and sets its efforts on the first component of the 90–90–90 target.
As such, Dr. Moore said: “World AIDS Day observances provide us with an opportunity to pause and take stock not only of what we have achieved, which is as a result of our collective efforts, but they also allow us to examine what remains to be accomplished, what strategies should be utilised and what are the obstacles that we need to overcome in our aim to end this epidemic.”
Meanwhile, UNAIDS Country Director for Guyana and Suriname, Dr. Martin Odiit, in his remarks stated that about one quarter of persons worldwide do not know that they are living with HIV while, in general, some 37 million persons are living with the infection.
At the same time, only 59 per cent of all persons living with HIV in the world are accessing treatment as HIV infections worldwide are not reducing fast enough.
Dr. Odiit urged HIV positive persons to be consistent with their treatment and reminded that couples engaging in normal sexual intercourse can still be discordant whereby one partner is HIV positive and the other is not.
With these in mind, he stated: “People living with HIV should not die from AIDS and people who are HIV negative should be supported with HIV prevention, knowledge and tools so that they can stay negative.”
Dr. Boatswain in her presentation said that the campaign seeks to educate, empower and encourage Guyanese to embrace the responsibility of knowing their status.
The strategy in effect has two components: the first of which is to reach out to strengthen collaboration with stakeholders to provide HIV testing and sensitisation services.
Second is the component which sees collaboration with health care providers to ensure that those seeking health services receive Provider-Initiated Counselling and Testing (PICT).
As such, for the purpose of the campaign, NAPS will be working along several health institutions for the next three months which include the Kitty, Campbellville, Dorothy Bailey and Beterverwagting Health Centres; Dental School and the Diamond Diagnostic Centre.
“It is important that we revive the culture of HIV testing. It is important that we re-empower the Guyanese public to know their status and to understand the responsibility that they have. It is important that we help our health care providers to recognise the importance of having that conversation with clients and patients,” Dr. Boatswain said.
The campaign will additionally see awareness walks; school essay competitions; site and mobile HIV testing and more being conducted extending all the way into the New Year.
The UNAIDS 90–90–90 target was launched in 2014 targeting 30 million person while Guyana embarked on its HIV response 31 years ago with its first AIDS case diagnosed in 1987 followed by the establishment of NAPS in 1992.