Op-Ed: Highlighting U.S.-Suriname public health partnerships on Caribbean-American HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

By Jay N. Anania, U.S. Ambassador to Suriname

As part of Caribbean-American Heritage Month, we in the United States mark June 8 as Caribbean-American HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.  On this day, events are held in U.S. cities to encourage Caribbean-American and Caribbean-born individuals to get educated, get tested, get treated and get involved.  It is also an appropriate time for people in CARICOM member states to examine the work being done in the Caribbean to combat HIV/AIDS.

At one percent of the population, the Caribbean has the highest HIV prevalence outside of Sub-Saharan Africa – twice that of Latin America and North America.  While this statistic is alarming, the U.S. Government, in close partnership with the people and Government of Suriname, is working to secure a better future for those affected by or at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.

The United States is committed to helping partner nations control the HIV/AIDS pandemic.  The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is the largest pledge made by any nation to combat a single disease.  In the last decade, the U.S. government dedicated more than $52 billion to global HIV/AIDS programs, including the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

In 2010, the U.S. Government launched the PEPFAR Small Grants Program in the Caribbean Region.  In Suriname, the U.S. Government has allocated $153,000 since 2010 to fund Surinamese organizations that provide counseling to at-risk populations, raise awareness of prevention and healthy lifestyle choices, and fight stigma and discrimination.

The U.S. Embassy in Paramaribo collaborates with many Surinamese organizations to increase awareness and decrease the number of HIV cases in the region.  As one example, our Embassy worked with the Surinamese Business Coalition Against HIV/AIDS to conduct awareness activities among employees and to hold health fairs in several Surinamese districts.  PEPFAR funds also created facilities in Suriname where HIV/AIDS patients can receive care and counseling.  These spaces help key populations, including those stigmatized, to not only seek treatment but to stay in treatment.

Suriname virtually eliminated malaria within its borders, making it a leader in fighting infectious disease.  Suriname is one of the few countries in the Caribbean where the incidence rate of HIV-infection declined by more than 25 percent since 2007.  It is my hope that continued collaboration between the United States, Suriname, and other international partners, including the Pan American Health Organization, will lead to greater strides in reducing the number of HIV/AIDS cases in the region and improving the lives of people living with HIV.

Let Caribbean-American HIV/AIDS Awareness Day serve as a reminder of how the cooperation among nations is a beneficial tool towards combatting HIV/AIDS and how continuing to work together will improve the lives of future generations.