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Community support as we work towards zero AIDS related deaths

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Fri, Nov 28, 2014

Since 2011, the theme for World AIDS Day, celebrated annually on December 1, has been “Getting to Zero” – meaning zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination, and zero AIDS related deaths.

The theme is the same this year, and will be, until 2015. It focuses on “Zero AIDS Related Deaths” and signifies a push towards greater access to treatment for all.{{more}}

In the SEARCHLIGHT Midweek edition of November 25, 2014, we carried a story in which a local HIV/AIDS community animator lamented the recent closure of a project, which funded the operation of a group of persons, specially trained to work with persons living with HIV/AIDS.

As we understand it, these animators, as they are called, perform the absolutely vital role of keeping in touch with and boosting the morale of HIV positive persons, so that they do what is needed to keep healthy. The animators, for example, ensure that medical appointments are kept, medication is taken as prescribed and nutritious meals are eaten.

For a person living with HIV/AIDS, keeping healthy is synonymous with viral suppression. The United States government website www.aids.gov explains that viral suppression is key for people living with HIV. Viral suppression means having very low levels of HIV in the body, even though the virus is still there.

Achieving viral suppression by taking HIV medicines allows people living with HIV to have nearly normal lifespans and greatly reduces their chances of transmitting the virus. While we have made progress in HIV prevention and care, we still have a way to go in relation to the percentage of HIV infected persons who achieve viral suppression.

We do not have statistics for St Vincent and the Grenadines, but in the United States, only 30 per cent of all people living with HIV have achieved viral suppression. If they are in HIV medical care, however, 76 per cent of people achieve viral suppression. Getting and keeping people in HIV medical care saves lives.

This is why the work of community animators is so important. Even though HIV infected persons receive medications and nutritional support from the government, an empathetic, personal touch is key in their care.

It is not clear why funding for the regional HIV/AIDS support programme was withdrawn, but without a safety net to catch the local target community, we will reverse the gains we have made in getting closer to zero new infections and zero AIDS related deaths.

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