12 Dec HIV in Cuba: National Program Results
Havana, December 12, 2016 – Almost 30 years since Cuba diagnosed its first case of HIV, the island’s National HIV/AIDS Program is showing results. Recent data from the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) reveal a prevalence rate of .27% among Cubans aged 15-49 and World Health Organization certified Cuba as the first country to have eradicated mother-to-child transmission of HIV and congenital syphilis. Additionally, UNAIDS considers HIV to have been stabilized in Cuba, where some 2,000 cases are diagnosed annually. Today, there are 21,544 Cubans living with HIV; more than 17,000 of them receive antiretroviral treatment.
Nevertheless, three decades of comprehensive HIV-related health promotion and prevention is also revealing challenges. Among the most pressing issues are adherence to treatment protocols and low risk perception – especially among heterosexuals (of the 80% of Cubans with HIV, nine out of 10 are men who have sex with men) and young people. In response, the national program has reinforced strategies emphasizing active screening, using a condom during each sexual encounter, the importance of adhering to antiretroviral schedules, and stimulating cross-sector participation in prevention and raising risk perception. Another challenge is maintaining the supply and distribution of generic antiretroviral medicines produced in Cuba, including nevirapine, zidovudine, lamiduvine, efavirenz and abacavir, while strengthening international cooperation to procure those pharmaceuticals not manufactured domestically. Problems encountered with distribution of condoms in pharmacies across the country at the beginning of 2016 have been resolved according to authorities.
Cuba adopted the slogan ‘Raising our hands for prevention’ on December 1, World AIDS Day, designed to motivate each Cuban to participate in the prevention of HIV and STIs, including practicing safer, more responsible sex. This was accompanied by a series of national initiatives including a sexual diversity cinema series, wide scale condom sales and rapid HIV testing, and a new space in Havana (Prosalud; Calles 27 and B) where people can access information, counseling, a specialized library and electronic materials about HIV/Aids. One of the strengths of Cuba’s national program is the participation of more than 13,000 health promoters across the country who hold workshops, host cultural activities, distribute free condoms and share information about HIV risk. These promoters use a proven peer-to-peer approach, including men who have sex with men who visit popular cruising areas and nightspots to distribute condoms and HIV-related information. While it’s true that 83% of Cubans diagnosed with HIV in the past 30 years are still alive, that leaves 17% who are not. With this in mind, Cuba has set a 90-90-90 goal for 2020: to have 90% of the HIV-positive population diagnosed, 90% of those needing treatment receiving it, and eliminate transmission by 90%.