BY: DAVID LAO
Ah Cuba, a beach-infested island filled with friendly people and lively faces that is just a stones-skip away from the tip of Florida. As one of the resort-oriented countries resting along the Caribbean belt, the island is akin to thousands of tourists and vacationers on a daily basis. White, coral-washed beaches and crystal clear waters make it a tropical paradise. The country’s recent immigration reform as well as warming relations with the U.S. have now made it a world topic. Aside from this, you would also be pleased to know that the country is now becoming a lead example for others to follow in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Cuba is becoming a lead example in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
The U.N. has recognized Cuba’s social model towards the illness as the top contender in the race to completely eliminate HIV/AIDS. The country has, to date, reached a 47 per cent suppression rate of the virus and 85 per cent access to medical care for all the infected. These rates are part of the “90-90-90,” a UNAIDS program aimed at having 90 per cent of all people living with HIV knowing that they have HIV, 90 per cent of all people diagnosed with HIV receiving antiretroviral healthcare and 90 per cent of those receiving treatment having viral suppression. The ambitious program aims to have all these goals reached by the year 2020, with Cuba currently in the lead.
The country’s success in the suppression of the illness is largely due to the 90-90-90 program created by UNAIDS.
“HIV/AIDS is a global problem that requires global solidarity,” said Executive Director of UNAIDS Michel Sidibé to TeleSURtv while on his visit to Cuba. He then added that the “model” that Cuba had would be a huge proponent to “an approach that gives priority to people and not just focusing on the disease or hospitals.”
Based on statistics, Cuba’s model for fighting the disease is one of the most successful models in the world, but has also been labelled as the most interesting and unusual. Cuba sought to fight against the transmission of HIV even before it reached its shores, with the government setting up a National AIDS Commission in 1983. They would then proceed to destroy all foreign-sourced blood products and blood donor samples used for transfusions, placing pressure on the country’s supply of blood but allowing them to avoid transmissions towards blood recipients.
A further addition to the program would be the creation of multiple institutions such as the Santiago de Las Vegas Sanatorium in Havana—a place where Cubans identified with HIV would be placed in mandatory quarantine for a period of eight weeks. There, they would be informed of the disease they carried, how it is transmitted, prevention and safe sex practices. All pregnant women must also undergo HIV tests, and if found positive, must undergo antiretroviral treatment and have their babies delivered via cesarean, which reduces the chance of transmitting HIV to their child.
It was only last June when Cuba became the first country in the world to erase mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.
While this model does involve the violation of human rights to a very limited extent because of its mandatory quarantine and cesarean requirement, it has dramatically helped reduce and prevent the spread of HIV in Cuba ever since the first identified case in 1986, saving thousands of lives. According to 2014 statistics put out by UNAIDS, the number of people currently living with HIV in Cuba is around 17,000, with the prevalence rate settling around 0.3 per cent as well as less than 200 annual deaths due to AIDS.
It was only last June when Cuba became the first country in the world to erase mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis, receiving confirmation from the World Health Organization (WHO). Close to 1.4 million women who have HIV become pregnant every year, with about a 15-45 per cent chance of the HIV spreading to their child. The country has also adopted laws to prevent the discrimination of sex in the LGBTQ community, providing free sex reassignment surgery and hormone therapy free of charge since 2008.
“We will try to ensure that what we learn here is shared, so that the world understands what can be done in a rational way and what is the basis of the approach applied,” Sidibé said to TeleSURtv.