Barbados, the Eastern Caribbean, and the U.S. PEPFAR Program Building on Success in Fighting AIDS

World AIDS Day is both a day of remembrance and a day of celebration. As we mark this day on December 1, we must all recall those who have lost their lives to AIDS. It is in their memory that we work each and every day to provide HIV prevention, treatment and care to millions across the globe.

D. Brent Hardt, Chargé d’Affaires, a.i. U.S. Embassy to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean

Yet, it is also a day to celebrate those whose lives have been improved and saved – in the Caribbean and throughout the world – thanks to global efforts to fight this devastating disease. On this World AIDS Day, it is important to remember that we have a shared responsibility to build on the success achieved to date by making smart investments that will ultimately save more lives.

And there is much success to build on. In Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, the United States, through President Obama’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), is contributing to the achievement of the Pan-Caribbean Partnership Against HIV/AIDS’s Caribbean Regional Strategic Framework’s goal of reducing estimated number of new infections in the Caribbean.

Working in the areas of HIV Prevention, Strategic Information, Laboratory Strengthening and Health Systems Strengthening, PEPFAR is partnering with the governments of Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean to better understand the scope and nature of the epidemic and support evidence-based decision-making for improved programs, policies and services.

PEPFAR is helping to increase Eastern Caribbean countries’ capacity to improve the quality and availability of diagnostic and monitoring services and systems for HIV and related sexually transmitted infections; increase the availability and retention of trained health care providers and managers; and improve countries’ capacity to effectively lead, finance, and sustain the delivery of quality HIV prevention, care, treatment and support services at every level over the long term.

U.S. support to the region’s health capabilities continues to grow despite these difficult economic times. Building on the success of PEPFAR and other global health programs, President Barack Obama has also launched an ambitious Global Health Initiative which will support coordinated programs aimed at reducing lives lost from HIV/AIDS and other health challenges. Through additional U.S. investments in the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, many more people will benefit from prevention, care and treatment.

We are pleased to see that national AIDS programs in the Eastern Caribbean are using funds more wisely to achieve greater impact. As a result, people are now benefitting from increased access to testing and counseling services. Dominicans, for example, are benefitting from U.S. Government support for the strengthening of existing laboratory systems, and voluntary counseling and testing services are now available at three non-traditional testing sites.

With the increasing need to expand HIV testing, improve turnaround time for test results, and move infected persons into care and treatment programs quickly, the Strengthening of Information and Laboratory Systems Project funded by PEPFAR is already proving to be invaluable for the introduction of onsite rapid testing. Also as part of the PEPFAR program, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have helped develop national testing guidelines using materials from the Pan American and World Health Organizations.

This past July, three testing sites were prepared for HIV onsite testing, staff members were trained, and a pilot testing program was launched. Each testing site then announced an “HIV Testing Day” during the week of the official launch. By the end of September 2010, 345 tests out of a target of 350 (98.6%) were performed. This successful effort laid the foundation for a nationwide rollout in 2011, and for regional efforts that will bring PEPFAR-supported initiatives to Barbados and across the Eastern Caribbean.

On this World AIDS Day, we honor the lives lost and celebrate the lives saved, recognizing that we must now redouble our efforts to defeat this scourge. Working together, we can build on our successes by caring for and treating the victims of HIV and AIDS and preventing the spread of this disease in the Caribbean.

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