Four Caribbean countries to use Guyana’s methods in treating HIV/AIDS

The Ministry of Health (MOH) and Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV and AIDS (PANCAP) on Monday began the ‘South-South knowledge exchange event’ which will focus on Guyana’s experience in implementing Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and HIV self-testing (HIVST).

The three-day event will see Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica utilising Guyana’s methods in treating HIV/AIDS.

Minister of Health, Dr. Frank Anthony along with participants of the event.

National AIDS programme managers and clinical care co-ordinators from the Caribbean countries joined officials from Guyana at the National AIDS Programme Secretariat (NAPS) in Georgetown for the programme.

The countries were chosen based on their level of healthcare services in treating infected persons.

Addressing the event, Minister of Health, Dr. Frank Anthony outlined Guyana’s methods in identifying and treating patients living with HIV/AIDS.

He explained that measures were put in place to ensure all citizens have access to healthcare. He said the measures could reduce the burden of infections.

“One way of doing that is obviously to do PrEP… about two years ago we were only doing PrEP discordant couples and now we have changed that to make sure that PrEP is available to everybody,” Dr. Anthony said.

Also, a number of testing and treatment sites are operational across the country. The minister said while traditionally persons had to be counselled before getting tested for HIV/AIDS, this is no longer required as self-testing is becoming more prevalent.

A section of the gathering at the event

“We have started doing self-testing, it is not as comprehensive as we would like it to be, but we have started, and we have some amount of experience with self-testing, and hopefully we’ll be able to increase the coverage as we go,” Dr. Anthony said.

The ministry would have worked with the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) to establish guidelines to properly rollout PrEP to the population.

Meanwhile, regarding treatment and care, the health minister noted that Guyana has a “robust” programme, noting stating that the ministry is aware of new medications to treat persons living with HIV/AIDS.

“In terms of treatment and care, we have I think a fairly robust programme. We’re also working to look at the various medications that we use perhaps to revise the guidelines to reflect newer ways of treatment.”

A department was set up to ensure five neglected infectious diseases are eliminated by 2025. One of those diseases is Hepatitis C, with which approximately 500 persons are infected in Guyana.

In collaboration with PAHO, the ministry is expected to get a reasonable cost for Hep C treatment, through the Strategic Fund.

The exchange event is being funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and will be conducted over a three – day period.

PANCAP Knowledge Coordinator, Dr Shanti Singh-Anthony said Guyana was selected because of the progress made by the NAPS in PrEP and HIVST implementation and the wealth of experience to be shared with the region. 

Representative of PAHO participating in the event

According to a PANCAP release, Guyana is one of the first countries in the region to have achieved the First 90. At the end of 2020, 94 per cent of People Living with HIV knew their HIV status. Guyana has also made significant progress in delivering PrEP to KPs; the NAPS has developed PrEP guidelines, trained clinicians, and developed systems.  PrEP is available at 15 public, private and civil society organisations (CSO) locations.

HIVST is in the pilot phase, and Guyana’s testing algorithm was validated.  HIVST kits can be accessed from four public, private and CSO locations.  In addition, NAPS has plans to scale up and make more sites accessible.

The South-South knowledge exchange is part of PANCAP’s overarching strategy to enhance the skills of National AIDS programme technical teams and CSO representatives in implementing PrEP and HIVST.