30 November 2016 | Health

Today marks the 29th anniversary of International World AIDS Day and it is an honour to address you as the new patron of the National AIDS Council. December 1, 2016, represents 29 years of a relentless fight against one clever little agent, and the committed search for a cure for HIV. On World AIDS Day, we remember those who we have lost to HIV/AIDS, celebrate the progress made by advocates and providers, pledge our support for those at risk or living with HIV, and commit to attaining our goal of an AIDS-free generation.

The UNAIDS Prevention Gap Report has warned us that declines in new HIV infections among adults have stalled for at least five years. Today countries all around the world stand together in solidarity. We reaffirm our commitment to the new global theme 'Hands up for HIV Prevention' and UNAIDS' strategy of 'Getting to Zero by 2030'.

On World AIDS Day 2014, I launched the Test and Treat campaign and I am pleased to note that HIV testing has increased by over 40%.  Progress on treatment has been remarkable and I salute all those who are faithful to their treatment despite the difficulties, especially the 70 individuals who have just started, and the 13 who recommenced this year. Over 90% of patients who are on antiretroviral treatment have an undetectable viral load, and 100% of children aged less than 15 years living with HIV are on treatment. I am also proud to say that there were zero cases HIV transmission from mother to child or through blood transfusion in 2016.

However, many continue to refuse treatment or have failed to attend follow-ups. I urge all those who have been diagnosed with HIV – please take your medication and continue all follow-ups – you have a crucial role to play in prevention. Despite reduced numbers, we have seen a few AIDS-related deaths this year, some of which were caused by refusal of treatment. As a direct consequence, several families today mourn the loss of a loved one.

In their honour, and for the sake of our future, my administration reiterates its commitment to ensure free access to health care and support for all those in need. We continue to provide over 95% of the financing for the national HIV/AIDS response, especially through the National AIDS Council funding, ensuring accessibility of funds by all in need. The National Workplace Policy for HIV and AIDS spearheaded by the Ministry for Employment has been reviewed to incorporate ILO recommendations for more effective coordination.

Moreover, together with our regional and multilateral partners, we are finalising a National Action Plan to remove legal barriers to HIV/AIDS and revise laws, policies and institutions to address discrimination and increase access to services.

HIV still affects specific populations disproportionately across our country. We must target our efforts to reduce HIV-related health disparities and focus increased attention on highly vulnerable populations. Certain individuals – including intravenous drug users, gay and bisexual men, sex workers, prison inmates, migrant workers, and people who live in confined groups – are at greater risk and this year was a milestone in addressing key populations. We decriminalised sodomy, improved services in prison and addressed issues concerning the Misuse of Drugs Act. Intravenous drug use has become the major route of HIV transmission. For the first time in Seychelles, a needle exchange programme for intravenous drug users was introduced, and we also established stronger measures to fight drugs nationally.

Our country joined UNAIDS on the fast-track to end AIDS.  Like the rest of the world we are committed to at least 90% of the population living with HIV to know their HIV status, 90% of those who are HIV positive to be on antiretroviral treatment, and 90% of those on treatment to have their viral load suppressed, remaining healthy and reducing the risk of HIV transmission. We can further fast-track the response so that at least 90% of our youth are empowered to protect themselves from HIV, all men and women in Seychelles including those at risk have access to combination prevention for HIV and to maintain no child is ever born with HIV.  Seychelles is a small island state and I believe we can even elevate our target to 100%.

Together we can reduce new infections and build a cohesive coordinated response to HIV. Being committed to 'Hands Up for Prevention' entails a combination of interventions including the strengthening of the ABCDs of safer sex (delaying first sex in our young people, promoting abstinence and fidelity, encouraging the
consistent use of condoms and eliminating drug use), combating child abuse, encouraging more testing, and addressing barriers that prevent key populations and people living with HIV from accessing and using services. It will require on-going political and strategic collaboration with the National Assembly, private sector, faith communities, philanthropic organisations, governments worldwide, and an engaged and active civil society. Together, we can forge a future by 2030 where there are zero new HIV infections, zero AIDS-related deaths, and zero persons know the pain of stigma and discrimination caused by HIV/AIDS.

Today I would also like to commend the Ministry of Health and their team of dedicated staff for taking the lead in the HIV/AIDS response – not only in prevention, treatment care, and support – but also in the national coordination of the response. I also extend my sincere appreciation to all other relevant stakeholders, partners, funders who have been instrumental in enabling the country to contain the infection and continue to fight for a world free from HIV/AIDS.

World AIDS Day 2016 is an appropriate recognition of the extraordinary progress made, yet an important reminder that the most profound challenge still remains before us – to end this devastating epidemic. This is possible and attainable if we accelerate our investment, commitment and innovation – let us continue to strive towards its realisation together.

Danny Faure

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