Our Readers' Opinions
December 18, 2009
Working Together to Combat HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean

by D. Brent Hardt 18.DEC.09

On December 1, 2009, people the world over observed World AIDS Day, as governments and non-governmental organizations, businesses, medical and health care professionals, and millions of ordinary people paused to reflect on the toll this disease has taken on the world.

But it was also a moment of hope — a time to remember and honor those who have devoted their knowledge, time, and energies in a relentless battle over the past thirty years to rid the world of this disease.{{more}}

The United States of America has been in the vanguard of the fight to find a cure and, just as importantly, to prevent its spread and bring relief, comfort and life-saving medications to those who are affected by HIV/AIDS.

When President George W. Bush launched the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in 2003, it represented the largest commitment ever made by any nation to combat a single disease. By the end of 2008, when PEPFAR was renewed for an additional five years, the $6 billion program had become global in scope, employing a multifaceted prevention, treatment, and care strategy that focuses on building partnerships, transparency, and accountability to achieve results for people.

The Caribbean has the second highest HIV prevalence in the world after sub-Saharan Africa. The AIDS epidemic continues to be a leading cause of death among Caribbean adults 25 to 44 years of age and has orphaned approximately 250,000 Caribbean children. In 2007, some 14,000 Caribbean nationals died of AIDS, an estimated 20,000 people were newly infected with HIV, and an estimated 234,000 people were living with HIV, with three quarters of those infected living in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

To strengthen regional efforts to defeat the HIV/AIDS scourge, the United States Embassy in the Eastern Caribbean has been leading an effort to develop a Caribbean Regional PEPFAR Partnership. In meetings with twelve country partner governments and two regional programs, we have developed a strategy and work plan to meet this disease head on. The new Partnership Framework will include St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica, Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bahamas, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname and Belize, and will work in close coordination with our regional partners, the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and the Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV/AIDS (PANCAP).

In fact, the Embassy marked World AIDS day by holding consultative meetings for PANCAP and OECS with those U.S. agencies taking part in the national and regional consultations: USAID, Centers for Disease Control, the Peace Corps, Department of Defense, and the Department of State.

Worldwide, PEPFAR will provide treatment for 3 million HIV-infected people, help prevent 12 million new infections, and provide care for 12 million people infected or affected by HIV/AIDS. Through its programs,, PEPFAR has also helped to strengthen health systems more broadly, with positive spin-off effects on a broad range of health threats.

In launching his Global Health Initiative, President Barack Obama announced that his Administration would expand upon PEPFAR’s success by moving from its initial emergency focus to a heightened emphasis on sustainability.

The Caribbean region, despite varying levels of economic development and health system capacities, faces common challenges in developing and sustaining well-coordinated, effective national responses to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The United States Government remains firmly committed to working with governments throughout the region as well as our partner institutions in a common effort to safeguard the health and well-being of our Caribbean neighbors.

D. Brent Hardt is Chargé d’Affaires at the Embassy of the United States of America to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean.