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Major gaps in HIV prevention in Latin America and Caribbean, UN official says

Major gaps in HIV prevention in Latin America and Caribbean, UN official says

Despite considerable achievements in ensuring access to care and treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS in Latin America and the Caribbean, major gaps continue to exist in carrying out effective prevention interventions due to economic and political crises in the region, a top United Nations official said today.

"The main stumbling block is that resources are often insufficiently allocated to address the needs of those most at risk of HIV infection primarily due to the stigma surrounding marginalized groups," Peter Piot, Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), said at the opening of a conference on HIV/AIDS in Latin America and the Caribbean in Havana, Cuba.

The Second Forum on HIV/AIDS/STIs in Latin America and the Caribbean aims to address a range of AIDS-related issues, including financing HIV/AIDS care and treatment, as well as the implementation of projects funded by the UN Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The conference, organized by a network of National AIDS Programme Coordinators from the region, kicked off yesterday and will conclude this Saturday.

"The conference presents an opportunity for governments, non-governmental organizations and civil society from the region to renew their commitment and alliances to fight HIV/AIDS and strengthen south-south cooperation," Dr. Piot said. "In particular, we must avoid the epidemic becoming entrenched in marginalized populations, including men who have sex with men, sex workers, injecting drug users, prisoners, poor migrant workers, and ethnic minorities."

With an adult HIV prevalence of 2.3 per cent, according to UNAIDS, the Caribbean is the second-worst affected region after sub-Saharan Africa, which has a 9 per cent HIV prevalence. Close to 2 million people are living with HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean and Latin America, at a time when there is a growing danger of the AIDS response in the region losing its momentum due to economic and political crises in the region.

Dr. Piot said leadership from the top is needed, but leadership is only cemented when civil society is fully engaged in driving the AIDS response. "Cases like Brazil's show that governments which open the way for civil society to actively manage the social control of AIDS move faster to large-scale, credible programmes," he said, stressing the important role of civil society in the fight against the epidemic.