By November 8, 2016, 26,048 people in Cuba had been diagnosed with HIV since the first case of the virus was discovered on the island, only 17% of whom have died. Today there are 21,544 people living with HIV in the country, according to Dr. María Isela Lantero, head of the Ministry of Public Health’s National STI/HIV/AIDS Control and Prevention program, speaking during a press conference concerning World AIDS Day.
The HIV/AIDS rate on the island is low, with only 0.27% of Cubans aged 15 to 49 suffering from the virus, which mainly affects men who have sexual intercourse with other men, explained the expert.
Current antiretroviral drugs are effective enough to prevent HIV/AIDS from becoming a death sentence, and can extend patients’ lives, especially if medical instructions and treatment plans are adhered to. Since there is no cure for the virus at present, prevention continues to be vital to controlling the illness, stressed Dr. Lantero, who also called attention to this year’s maxim for World AIDS Day – celebrated December 1 – “Levantemos la mano por la #preveción” (We support #prevention), promoting healthy sexual conduct and personal-care measures to prevent sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS.
Among targets for 2020, Dr. Lantero noted diagnosing and treating 90% of people with HIV. “Today more than 17,000 people are receiving antiviral treatment in the country, while 90% of HIV patients living in Cienfuegos are being treated,” stated the expert.
According to the head of the National STI/HIV/AIDS Control and Prevention program, the initiative is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, noting that Cuba is one of the countries in the region and world with the best results in this field. “We were the first country to validate the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis,” she recalled.
Among the strategic aims of the program, she highlighted the continuation of neighborhood health surveys; ensuring that people know their HIV status; raising risk awareness among the population; promoting the use of condoms during every sexual encounter; ensuring that patients adhere to antiviral treatment plans and are provided with necessary medications; as well as increasing the participation of civil society in prevention efforts.
In this regard Dr. Lantero explained the importance of promotion initiatives not only across the health sector, but in all environments, especially community spaces; highlighting the need to train facilitators in order increase the program’s reach.
Both authorities from Cuba’s public health sector and Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) believe that the number of people living with HIV in the country has stabilized, representing a crucial moment for the program which requires the support of all to continue achieving results like that of mother-to-infant transmission, stated Lantero.
Around 2,000 cases of HIV/AIDS are diagnosed on the island every year. “We also have a responsibility to work to prevent the epidemic,” she noted.
Meanwhile, Dr. Jacqueline Sánchez, director of the National STI/HIV/AIDS Prevention Center, highlighted that activities for World AIDS Day will coincide with those of National Health Workers Day: a perfect opportunity to honor those who every day work to ensure greater control of the virus.
She noted that 2016 has been a year of intense work and commented on activities scheduled for December 1, including a film screening about sexual diversity across the country and actions as part of national participation in End Violence Against Women and Girls Week. The expert also highlighted the launch of a user-friendly service in the Prosalud facilities, designed to provide information, guidance, and advice to the population and promote links between those that visit the center and other health or AIDS prevention services.
The main commemoration of World AIDS Day will take place in the Joaquín Albarrán polyclinic, located in Central Havana, a municipality which has undertaken outstanding work within the program and has seen the community take a leading role in all actions.
She also noted that next December 5th is International Volunteers Day, to honor individuals essential to the achievements Cuba has made to date, with over 13,000 volunteers across the entire country.
Dr. Sánchez also mentioned the free cultural gala set to take place at 8:30pm on December 1, in the capital’s Lázaro Peña Theatre; where awards in recognition of the outstanding work of institutions, organizations, bodies and individuals to support prevention efforts and solidarity with those affected by HIV/AIDS, will be presented.
Efraín Sabá, artistic director of the gala, explained that various talents have come together to make the evening a special celebration, including performers from the Cabaret Tropicana, Habana Compás company, Juan Guillermo and his band —the face of this year’s campaign — Diván, Haila María Mompié and Vania Borges, among others.