(CARICOM Secretariat, Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown, Guyana) The prevention of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections in adolescents and youth across the region was a major agenda item when the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) convened a three-day meeting in Georgetown last week. The meeting also examined plans to move the region forward towards the elimination of mother-to-child transmission (EMTCT) of HIV and congenital syphilis.
Globally, young adults under 25 years of age account for the highest rates of new infections of STIs, including HIV. Reaching members of this vulnerable population in the Caribbean, especially adolescents aged 10-17 years, of age is challenging. This is due to many factors, including laws requiring parental consent for young people to seek sexual reproductive health care and counseling, obtain birth control and be tested for HIV.
Attendees shared best practices of successful youth programmes in their countries and discussed challenges they face. Programmes aimed at encouraging teens to wait before they become sexually active, to protect themselves when they do become sexually active and to reduce the number of sexual partners they have aim to reduce the risk to these young people.
The meeting identified a number of activities to move the region towards lower infection rates, including advocating for legislation changes and protecting youth from stigma and discrimination, which puts their health at risk.
In order to be validated for EMTCT, countries will need to submit reports demonstrating less than two percent of children born with HIV for two consecutive years. While different countries across the region have different programmes, they are all guided by the same overall goal and will be measured under the same criteria. A technical working group is being reconvened to provide technical support as the region moves forward with the EMTCT initiative.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines work on a four-pronged approach toward the elimination of mother-to-child transmission. These are: prevention of HIV in young women; prevention of unintended pregnancies; prevention of mother-to-child transmission; and support for families affected.
Elimination will be accomplished by providing pregnant women with antiretroviral therapy during their pregnancy (Option B), and for life in some cases (Option B+) and by providing the newborn babies with preventative drugs. Women are also counseled on their options for early feeding and are supported in healthy feeding practices whether they choose to breastfeed or to administer formula.
Attendees of the meeting included representatives from PAHO, UNAIDS, UNICEF, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), the Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV (PANCAP), and the countries of Barbados, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago. Among the attendees were members of the youth community who shared their views and stressed the importance of psycho-social support for teens.