Seychelles and Indian Ocean sister nations commit to continued solidarity in the fight against HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis
(Seychelles News Agency) - Indian Ocean island nations need to continue to work together, sharing ideas, expertise and best practices, while remaining in solidarity to fight against HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis.
That was the main message that over 300 participants of 14th Colloquium on HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis took home on Thursday last week, after three days of intense deliberation.
The three-day colloquium held at the Savoy Resort and Spa at Beau Vallon, in the north of the Seychelles main island of Mahé, brought together health professionals, government officials, representatives of the media and civil society as well as people living with HIV from the islands of Madagascar, Mauritius, Reunion, Rodrigues, the Comoros and Seychelles
Representatives of regional and international organisation including the Indian Ocean Commission, World Health Organisation, UNAIDS among others were also in attendance.
The annual colloquium was once again an opportunity for all stakeholders to be given a clearer picture of the actual situation in their respective countries and collectively as a region, take stock of progress made in the fight against HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis as well as new and emerging challenges that Indian Ocean islands are facing.
“Increasing testing in 2015 to identify people who are HIV positive so as to save lives….ensuring access of Indian Ocean islands to affordable vaccines against Hepatitis B…as well as access to treatment for people infected with Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C as in 2015 Hepatitis C can be cured…It’s also to strengthen the fight against drug use, there’s a lot to be done to reduce this scourge that is affecting the Indian Ocean….also fighting against discrimination and stigmatisation…because of that, people do not want to get tested, do not want to tell their partners that they are HIV positive and the infections will continue to spread,” said Dr Catherine Gaud, founder of the annual colloquium when speaking about the main recommendations that came out of this year’s meeting.
|Founder of the Indian Ocean Colloquium on HIV/AIDS, Dr Catherine Gaud. (Joena Bonnelame, Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY|
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) was first identified in 1981 and is believed to have originated from the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa.
The virus, transmitted through various ways including transfusion of contaminated blood, unprotected sexual intercourse or sharing of contaminated needles, destroys and weakens the immune systems of infected individuals, which make them vulnerable to different infections and diseases.
At a more advanced stage, a full-blown HIV infection is called acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), although this can take between one and ten years to develop.
Now a global pandemic, it is estimated that 36 million people worldwide were living with HIV in 2014 while 34 million people who have contracted the virus have died since 1981.
Seychelles, an Indian Ocean archipelago with its population of around 93,000, recorded its first HIV case in 1987 and has since recorded 706 cases up to mid this year.
Currently, there are 470 people living with HIV in Seychelles with 41 cases recorded just between January to June this year, according to the Seychelles health ministry’s mid-year epidemiological report.
This, according to the ministry represents a 37% increase in new cases, when compared to the same period in 2014.
Out of the 41 cases, which includes people ranging from 18 to 59 years, 18 of them were intravenous drug users (IDU’s) out of which 8 were infected with both HIV and Hepatitis C.
January to June this year has also seen an alarming increase in Hepatitis cases with 43 new cases detected representing an increase of 330% in new reported cases compared to 10 cases for the same period in 2014.
|Over 300 delegates from Indian Ocean islands took part in the 14th Colloquium on HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis. (Louis Toussaint, Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY|
|The 14th Colloquium on HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis is the third time Seychelles has hosted the annual regional colloquium. (Joena Bonnelame, Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY|
Intravenous drug users have hence been identified as one of the most vulnerable groups at risk of contracting both HIV and Hepatitis and this is not only in Seychelles but in the region as well.
“The fact is the both HIV and Hepatitis are blood borne diseases. Right now, almost 100% of our IDU’s are Hepatitis C positive and vice versa. [….]Anybody sharing needles will get HIV/AIDS as well….we have started to educate our people, because sooner or later we will have more people with HIV,” Dr. Anne Gabriel, Chief Executive of Seychelles National Aids Council told journalists at a press conference on Thursday..
During the colloquium harm reduction methods including the needle exchange programme to address the concern of HIV and Hepatitis infections among drug users were also discussed, where it was highlighted that such methods had proved successful in several countries including the neighbouring Indian Ocean island of Mauritius.
It is to be noted that the needle exchange programme as a potential harm reduction method is still in the discussion phase in Seychelles.
Heroin use in the Seychelles islands is a major health concern, as a 2011 study on injection drug use in the islands conducted by the country's Ministry of Health, reported an estimated 1,000 heroin users in the 90,000 population nation.
These statistics led the United Nations 2013 World Drug Report to conclude that Seychelles has one of the world’s highest rates of intravenous drug use.
The Seychelles ministry of health has said that it is currently supporting a national campaign to reduce the supply of drugs. The three month operation was launched last month by the Seychelles Ministry of Home Affairs and the national Drugs Enforcement Agency, NDEA.
“If we can do that, reduce the supply and demand, drug users would be in withdrawal and require treatment. Through our health centres we will be supporting the drug addicts needing treatment,” said Seychelles health minister Mitcy Larue.
This year’s Indian Ocean HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis colloquium was themed “S’unir pour combler les écarts et arriver à Zéro nouvelles infections, Zéro décès et Zéro discrimination” [Uniting to close the gap and getting to zero new infections, zero deaths and zero discrimination.”
A theme that fits well with the UN’s target set on World AIDS day on December 1 last year that “ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030 is possible, but only by closing the gap between people who have access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services and people who are being left behind.”
|The Seychelles Vice President Danny Faure lighting a candle at the opening of the Colloquium in remembrance of people who have died of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis. In Seychelles, a cumulative of 144 AIDS related deaths have been recorded since 1993 to June 2015. (Joena Bonnelame, Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY|
In Seychelles, a new programme called “Test and treat” was introduced in by the health ministry in December last year aiming to get as many people as possible to get tested.
At the close of the colloquium on Thursday, there were also calls for non-governmental organisations to be given the capacity as well as the opportunity to be more involved to bring the agenda forward.
The call was made by the outgoing president of a regional network, Ravane Océan Indien, Seychellois Ronny Arnephie. The network is actively involved in advocating for the rights of people living with HIV and those most vulnerable to HIV infection in the Indian Ocean region.
2015 was Seychelles’ third time hosting the annual colloquium and the task of organising the next colloquium in 2016 has been given to Madagascar.