With the goal of expanding access to antiretroviral treatment in Latin America and the Caribbean, dozens of global, national, and regional AIDS groups gathered in Mexico City for the first Latin American & Caribbean Forum on the Continuum of Care – UNAIDS, PAHO/WHO, IAPAC, CDC, PEPFAR joined AHF in organizing groundbreaking health forum
Representatives from 26 countries gathered in Mexico City from May 26 – 28 to discuss the expansion of access to lifesaving antiretroviral treatment (ART) for those living with HIV/AIDS in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The two-day forum was attended by 141 participants, which included heads of national AIDS programs, leading HIV clinicians from the Latin American/Caribbean region, and a large number of representatives from civil society, including 13 regional networks of non-government organizations (NGOs).
“Non-governmental organizations and community groups need to be actively involved in every single step of the HIV care cascade, and should not be limited to just hosting side activities or exclusively working on providing parallel low scale services,” said Dr. Jorge Saavedra, AHF’s Global Ambassador and former Director of the National AIDS Center of Mexico (CENSIDA), during the opening ceremony of the event, which was hosted by Mexico’s Secretary of Health, Dr. Mercedes Juan. “These groups should also be involved in providing and increasing HIV testing and care services, and regional governments need to recognize that if they want to achieve ambitious goals they will need to work with these organizations to expand services.”
The forum’s panel featured a multitude of experts on the region’s HIV/AIDS epidemic, including Dr. Patricia CamposAHF’s Latin America Bureau Chief who presented the nonprofit’s testing model which has seen success through global implementation, and AHF Southern Bureau Chief Michael Kahane, who offered different effective ways to implement services in a way that advances linkage and retention of clients, which he has witnessed through oversight of care provision in the Southern US and Caribbean.
Julio Montaner, an internationally known Argentinean HIV specialist, presented all the initial scientific evidence of how antiretroviral treatment for HIV+ people has positive effects that benefit not just the individual but the public health of the entire society through its secondary preventive effects. Representatives from the Brazilian Government also highlighted that their country is moving towards “Test & Treat” strategies, irrespective of CD4 cell counts, and mentioned that they are convinced that it is the correct direction for the rest of the region.
The well-attended gathering resulted in the development of an ambitious new AIDS strategy for the heavily impacted region that will see national governments uniting with global, regional, and local AIDS groups to achieve “90/90/90” by the year 2020. Specifically, the goals of the strategy are:
· 90% of those living with HIV will know their status: the groups will pursue this goal through a significant expansion in HIV testing services, including providing government support for NGOs to open testing services in community settings.
· 90% of the people who need treatment will be on ART: all of the countries represented at the forums agreed to adapt their national guidelines in order to incorporate recently amended World Health Organization guidelines that call for earlier implementation of ART.
· 90% of the people on ART will achieve viral suppression: in order to bring those living with HIV to the point of viral suppression – meaning they have a greatly reduced likelihood for transmission of the virus – the groups agreed to work on improving support for patients’ adherence to medication, simplifying HIV care services, fixing procurement systems and eliminating medication stock out problems.
At the end of the conference, representatives from the World Health Organization/Pan-American Health Organization and the Mexican government invited the participants to unite again next year for a second forum in another county in order to follow up on the intentions set forth this week, and to monitor their implementation.
AIDS Healthcare Foundation joined leading regional and global health organizations – including PAHO/WHO, the United Nations Joint Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS), the International Association of Providers of AIDS Care, the Pan Caribbean AIDS Partnership, and the Group of National AIDS Programs of Latin America – and the governments of Brazil and Mexico in forming a partnership coalition to organize the event.
The event was also supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).