New York - The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Fund have signed a new US$7 million grant to enhance access to HIV services in eight Caribbean countries – Belize, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago. The funds will focus on promoting and protecting human rights and access to HIV services for key populations such as men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers, marginalized young people and those using drugs, all of whom often bear the highest burden of HIV infection in the region.
Significant progress has been made to address the HIV epidemic in the Caribbean as new infections have decreased by 49% between 2001 and 2012. However, while the regional HIV prevalence rate is 1%, this figure is drastically on the rise among the key populations who continue to be disproportionately affected. WHO estimates that between 40% and 50% of all new HIV infections among adults worldwide may occur from among the very disproportionately affected key populations and their immediate partners. This is also the reality in the Caribbean and has led to countries reclassifying the epidemic as being both general and concentrated.
Existing laws, policies and attitudes continue to prevent many at-risk populations from accessing HIV prevention, testing and treatment services. In Caribbean countries where homosexuality is criminalized, almost 1 in 4 men who have sex with men are HIV-positive, compared to 1 in 15 in countries where it is not.
"There is an inherent contradiction between the good care some Governments provide through accessible HIV services and the possibility that existing legislation could lead to prosecution when one accesses those services. In the midst of a culture of care, a culture of fear becomes a reality for key populations in the Caribbean. Only by removing human rights barriers to make services accessible for at-risk populations can we hope to prevent and control HIV," said Magdy-Martínez-Solimán, UN Assistant Secretary General and Policy Chief of UNDP.
"This grant will be critical to the Caribbean's HIV response. It will also help reduce inequalities and significantly contribute to achieving a number of the Sustainable Development Goals," Martínez-Solimán further added.
Whereas UNDP will have overall responsibility for this grant, the primary implementing partners will be two leading Caribbean civil society organizations – Caribbean Vulnerable Communities (CVC) based in Jamaica and Centro de Orientación e Investigación Integral (COIN) based in the Dominican Republic. The grant will be effective from 1 October 2016 to 30 September 2019, and will help to scale up HIV services for key populations.
Key activities to be undertaken include legal environment assessments to enable the removal of human rights barriers and strengthening the legal and policy environment needed for an effective HIV response in the Caribbean; capacity building and sensitization of health workers and police to reduce stigma and discrimination; and strengthening the El Observatorio de Derechos Humanos Para Grupos Vulnerabilizados, an Observatory that is run by COIN with support from government (CONAVIHSIDA) and the UNDP Country Office in the Dominican Republic in addition to developing a new virtual observatory for the English speaking Caribbean in order to support advocacy for and enhancement of human rights practice.