Press Release: Fair Treatment Without Fear

(Members of the head table seated left to right: Ms. Patricia Figueroa (Puerto Rico), Mr. Mark Ross (Guyana),
Mr. Caleb Orozco (Belize), Ms. Rosaura Lopez (Puerto Rico) and Ms. Chrystol Albert (Guyana). )
The Caribbean Treatment Action Group (CTAG) declares the first Annual Access to Treatment Day (October 15, 2008) with launches in five Caribbean countries – Belize, Guyana, Jamaica, Curaçao and St. Lucia. In observing this day, CTAG, in association with the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC), and numerous local partners, brings attention to HIV-positive groups who face unique challenges in gaining access to treatment; particularly, women who are homeless and substance users.
The Caribbean currently has the second highest rates of HIV infection in the world; developing and executing a comprehensive response to HIV and AIDS is therefore essential. An important part of this response is providing access to treatment – for all who need it – based on stigma free care and support.
HIV antiretroviral medication is free or available at minimal cost in most Caribbean countries. Nonetheless, substance users and the homeless face unique challenges that limit their access to treatment: discrimination at points of service and the absence of basics like food, transportation and shelter. These groups, though often stigmatized, interact with the wider population, and as a result their access to healthcare affects the health of society as a whole.
A recent study by the Caribbean Drug and Alcohol Research Institute (CDARI) on the behaviours of homeless drug users in three Caribbean countries indicates that:
  • The rates of HIV infection in this group is substantially higher than the general population
  • They are less likely to take HIV tests or to seek treatment because of service barriers
  • 75 % of females sampled engage in transactional sex or exchange sex for drugs
  • Only 11% of females report using condoms consistently
Creative local initiatives in several Caribbean islands prove that substance users and the homeless can be successfully brought into treatment. Directly observed therapy and street-based outreach programmes in St. Lucia, Jamaica and Trinidad that bring medication, essential services and information directly to the target groups have improved their health outcomes and their chances of recovery.
CTAG is clear that effective HIV programming must have at least two distinct but related components:
First, a recognition of the fundamental human rights of these populations and a commitment to respect for their dignity.
Second, a commitment to incorporating the needs of these populations into programme planning – both to improve their rates of enrolment in and adherence to treatment and to ensure the success and sustainability of the wider prevention, care, treatment and support initiatives.
CTAG, in collaboration with CVC, will release two short documentaries that explore these challenges and potential solutions: one tailored specifically to policy-makers and the other for the general public. For more information, visit
What is The Caribbean Treatment Action Group (CTAG)?
The Caribbean Treatment Action Group (CTAG) is a group of Caribbean treatment access activists from around the region who are living with HIV and their supporters. It is a broad coalition comprised of people working in and for the community in their own countries and with strong expertise in HIV/AIDS treatment and related issues. CTAG’s programme consists of two main strategies. One is advocacy for access to HIV and AIDS-related care, treatment and support for all who need it in the Caribbean. The second is an annual small-grants programme that provides community groups with funds through a peer review process. CTAG was formed at a meeting in St Lucia in October 2004, where over 200 participants met to discuss the issues of access to treatment and support in the Caribbean and elect the very first CTAG committee. CTAG has provided grants to more than 25 organizations within 11 countries in the Caribbean.
CTAG is the Caribbean arm of the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition (ITPC), which is a worldwide coalition of people living with HIV/AIDS and their advocates. Established in March 2003, the ITPC advocates for universal and free access to treatment for AIDS for all HIV+ people and greater input from HIV+ people in decisions that affect their lives. We work to achieve these goals at the local, regional and international level. As a community voice, it combines the knowledge of the grassroots with technical expertise, and has been successful in communicating the concerns of people living with HIV/AIDS who need treatment to governments, United Nations agencies, the large pharmaceutical manufacturers among other public and private bodies that influence the progress of the establishment, scale-up and sustainability of HIV/AIDS treatment programs.
What is the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC)?
CVC is a coalition of organisations and individuals working in rights-based HIV prevention, care, treatment and support in the Creole, Dutch, English, French and Spanish speaking Caribbean, from Belize in the northwest to Suriname in the southeast. It was formed at a meeting of civil society groups from around the region held in Jamaica in December, 2004. The organisation’s formation arose from the need to fill a gap in the regional response to the HIV epidemic. That gap relates to diminishing the susceptibility of certain populations to HIV as well as to the inclusion of persons living with HIV and AIDS from those populations into culturally appropriate and accessible care, treatment and support programmes.
CVC has set itself the task of supporting community-based organisations, national programmes and others in developing and implementing rights-based programming to reduce the spread of HIV among especially vulnerable groups in the Caribbean, which include, among others, mobile populations, area youth, persons who sell sex, men who have sex with men and substance users. Because these populations are marginalised by the wider society, the coalition also seeks to lobby regional governments, inter-governmental, regional and international organisations to address their human rights concerns as a fundamental platform on which HIV prevention or care can become effective.
Tags: CaribbeanHIV/AIDSStigma