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 last month, after three days of intense deliberation.
The 3 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.
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.
Seychelles Islands 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.
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.”
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 and it was announced that the nation started 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. 2015 was Seychelles’ 3rd time of hosting the annual colloquium and the task of organizing the next colloquium in 2016 has been given to Madagascar.