OP-ED|Building on the gains in the fight against HIV/AIDS
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By Ambassador Irwin LaRocque

ON Sunday, 1 December, the Caribbean Community will join the world in observing World AIDS Day 2019. This year’s observance is occurring at a time when our governments and civil society organisations face the daunting task of adapting their life-saving initiatives in an environment of reduced financing from development partners for HIV prevention, support and treatment.

Hence this year’s World AIDS Day theme “Communities make the difference” is especially relevant as it turns the spotlight on the people and services which will truly make a difference in our race to end AIDS by 2030. I am referring to the civil society leaders, the community support groups, faith leaders, youth advocates, women and men’s groups and all those individuals who work at the grassroots level to reduce the prevalence of HIV in our region. These are the people that will make the difference as donor funding is reduced.
There is no understating the value and importance of Community-led organisations. In the HIV and AIDS response, this includes organisations by and for People Living with HIV or Tuberculosis and organisations by and for people affected by HIV, including groups most vulnerable to HIV such as people who use drugs, women and youth.

Key people-led organisations and networks and their expertise are anchored in their lived experiences, which determine their priorities. They are an intrinsic part of the global HIV response and a clear illustration of the value and the leverage community-led organisations can bring to the cause of ending AIDS in our region.

These organisations shape our lives, and in the case of the HIV response, they are saving lives. Through PANCAP’s work, we have seen how civil society groups, including groups that represent women and youth, have led responses that include advocacy, campaigning and holding decision-makers to account; monitoring of policies, practices, and service delivery; participatory research; education and information sharing; capacity building, and funding of community-led organizations, groups, and networks.

Community-led organisations have risen to the challenge of resource mobilisation. Generating income to sustain their operations is no longer an alien concept. In that regard, PANCAP has highlighted the work of the Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL), LIVE UP: The Caribbean Media Alliance and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD Guyana), among others.

In the case of LIVE UP: The Caribbean Media Alliance, this community-based entity was able to create a unique private-public partnership with Scotiabank. This provides training and capacity building for local journalists and civil society groups from across the region on reducing stigma and discrimination.

Recently, SASOD (Guyana) secured funding for the “Guyana Key Populations Viral Load Assessment” through the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), by way of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Global Fund to Fight Tuberculosis, AIDS and Malaria. There was technical support from MEASURE Evaluation in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Health’s National AIDS Programme Secretariat.

The ground-breaking study has brought tremendous value to Guyana’s Public Health as it sought to ascertain the level of difficulty experienced by People Living with HIV when accessing health services. This is a demonstration of how community-based organisations are now evolving to self-sustaining entities which mobilise finances that directly benefit the people they serve.

Our governments have also recognised the importance of grassroots, community-led organisations. Recently, National AIDS Programmes from several Caribbean territories have commenced social contracting of civil society organisations and community-based groups. This involves unique partnerships in which the national programmes employ them to provide services for vulnerable groups such as HIV testing, treatment, care and support. This partnership is critical for reaching the people who are most at risk.
For example, while drug users may not seek health information and services directly from a National AIDS Programme, it is likely they would seek assistance from a community-based drug rehabilitation centre.

But not all of our critical community-based initiatives are benefitting from this type of partnership. We need to acknowledge that community groups cannot stand alone in response to HIV. Their sustainability is critical to the Region ending AIDS by 2030 and achieving the 90-90-90 Targets to diagnose 90% of all HIV-positive persons, provide antiretroviral therapy (ART) for 90% of those diagnosed, and achieve viral suppression for 90% of those treated by 2020. I urge full support for the effort to sustain community-led organisations which are crucial to the Region’s HIV response. We cannot afford a reversal of all the substantial work done by governments, civil society and development partners to reduce the prevalence of HIV in the region.

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