Leading international and regional infectious disease specialists, health care professionals, and NGOs in the field of HIV gathered in Beirut, Lebanon for a workshop to address the stigma, challenges and unmet needs of HIV treatment in the Middle East. The initiative organized by Gilead Sciences Middle East provided a platform for experts to Share, Plan, Enforce, Execute and Deliver (SPEED) clear integrated roadmaps for patients in the race towards achieving the UNAIDs 90- 90-90 goals.
The 90-90-90 goals launched by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2013 aims to meet three key targets by 2020 including the diagnosis of 90% of HIV patients, ensuring 90% of these patients are receiving sustained antiretroviral therapy (ART), and achieving viral suppression of the disease in 90% of those being treated.
In efforts to reach this target, Lebanon is one of the leaders in the MENA region in terms of advances made in the field of human rights and recognition of the key population1.
“Lebanon has taken strides towards achieving the 90-90-90 goals through early adoption of the ‘treatment for all’ strategy since 2016. According to the Global AIDS Monitoring Report 2017 Country Progress Report, showed an estimated ART coverage of 50% in 2016. This has markedly improved and is reaching now almost 80% at the last part of the cascade (viral suppression). This is testament to the implementation of strict national guidelines and the work of the National AIDS Program and NGOs to raise awareness about HIV, tackle the stigma associated with the disease and take the necessary measures to treat patients,” commented Prof. Jacques Mokhbat, Professor of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, Chairperson of the Department of Medicine at the Lebanese American University School of Medicine, current president of Lebanese AIDS Society, President of LANA and National Focal Point on HIV care and ART.
At the SPEED workshop, physicians discussed the reasons behind HIV stigma, the difference between stigma and discrimination, as well as the challenges and barriers that make stigma still exist in the MENA region.
“This part of the world is relatively conservative, which makes stigma a key challenge. There is a great need for initiatives that lead to the reduction of stigma, a significant increase in prevention and testing awareness among the general population, as well as targeted education of the most-at-risk population. The aim of the workshop was to create tangible solutions for the challenges addressed, providing key stakeholders with an action plan per country to tackle them head-on,” said Dr. Serhat Unal, MD, is Professor of Medicine, Hacettepe University School of Medicine in Ankara, Turkey.
The treatment and management of HIV has come a long way, with many of HIV patients now able to look forward to having a normal life expectancy2. Once the UNAIDS 90-90-90 target is achieved, at
1 UNAIDs, Country progress report – Lebanon, Global AIDS Monitoring 2017
Harris TG, Rabkin M, El-Sadr WM. Achieving the fourth 90: healthy aging for people living with HIV. AIDS.
2018;32(12):1563-1569. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6082594/
least 73% of all people living with HIV worldwide will be virally supressed, which will enable the world to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030, generating profound health and economic benefits3.
“With the advent of ART, HIV became a manageable chronic condition, and early initiation of treatment enhances both health and economic gains. Healthcare professionals across the region need to work on increasing awareness about the disease and educating the population about the impact of the treatment available. Patients on treatment can live their lives like other healthy members of the community, however, it is paramount that their dignity is protected, while giving them the opportunity to be efficient members of the society with citizen rights, working rights, marriage rights and equality rights relieved from stigma or discrimination,” added Dr. Arash Alaei, MD, Co-Founder and Co-President at Institute for International Health and Education iiheus.org.
Ayman El Sayes, Medical Director, Gilead Sciences Middle East concluded: “The SPEED Workshop was organized as part of Gilead Sciences’ efforts to create a continuous medical education platform for healthcare professionals. Through such workshops, we aim to create a knowledge-sharing community where like-minded professionals can connect and exchange ideas. Our ambition is to continue leveraging the knowledge of international and regional healthcare professionals to share real-world best practice in HIV treatment, which leads to the better support for the people affected by HIV.”