The 24th International AIDS Conference in Montreal, Canada, which ran July 29 July to August 2, 2022 took place under the theme “Re-engage and follow the science”, drawing attention to the need to increase the pace of progress in the global HIV response.
According to the latest report by the Joint UN Programme on HIV and AIDS, in 2021, there were 1.5 million new HIV infections and 650,000 AIDS-related deaths. This translates to 4,000 new HIV infections every day and 1,800 deaths every day due to AIDS, or one death every minute. These statistics are totally unacceptable in this day and age of effective antiretroviral therapy. The sobering reality is that we are losing ground to the AIDS pandemic. At the conference we heard reports of drop offs in HIV testing, fewer patients being initiated on treatment, more patients on treatment being lost to follow up, and huge reduction in prevention programmes. Much of this is due to the ever-growing funding gap emerging for key HIV interventions. These are also related to the negative effects of the gobal COVID-19 pandemic, and are compounded by the worsening economic climate and cutbacks in international aid by traditional donors in the global North.
A major concern at the conference was that many delegates from the global South, where the above-mentioned fallout has disproportionally impacted the HIV response, were not able to attend owing to challenges with delayed and denied visas. This resulted in an inability of AIDS 2022 to be a truly inclusive conference representative of communities most affected by HIV living in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.
The Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition presented at the AIDS 2022 Conference in Montreal on its work in the Caribbean basin. It was a powerful account of what a regional coalition can do in this climate, to re-engage with the community and use the science to get us back on track with the AIDS response.
In our session on Community Monitoring of HIV services for Key Populations during COVID 19, we presented on how CVC built the capacity of community groups to monitor and advocate for improved HIV and health services as a key strategy to increase the accountability of decision-makers, healthcare providers and funders in the Caribbean basin region. This panel session was designed as an interactive panel discussion to:
- Present the lessons learned from a community-led monitor intervention carried out by the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC) in the Caribbean basin during the COVID19 pandemic.
- Better understand the health challenges facing service providers and empower Key Populations to lead in resolving the challenges through engagement with relevant stakeholders.
- Ensure Key Population groups are actively engaged in monitoring and offering solutions to health and HIV related advocacy issues affecting the care and treatment services they receive.
Through a ViiV Healthcare grant, CVC set up a community-led monitoring (CLM) scorecard system to hold PEPFAR funded organizations accountable for the prevention and health services they provide to Key Populations (KP) in Central America and the Caribbean. The intervention involved facilitating stakeholder consensus on a standardized minimum set of data indicators that were included in a community-based monitoring scorecard, as well as establishing and operating a functioning CLM system for the effective monitoring of HIV care and treatment services for Key Populations that can generate scientific data. The score cards were subsequently used to work with the lower scoring providers to make their services more Key Population-led and competent, building their capacity to better meet the prevention and health demands of key Population groups. During the session, panelists involved in this project presented the CLM process from the perspective of a PLWHA, a provider and duty bearer. Participants were able to learn about how the scorecard methodology can be used as a consensus building and cost-effective tool for monitoring; and by highlighting low-performing providers, can help improve the quality of services provided at antiretroviral (ART) treatment centres throughout the region.