Fresh Voices From the Field: HIV in the CaribbeanPosted on by
This is the fifth in our ongoing “Fresh Voices From the Field” series, where we hear from ASPPH (Association of School and Programs of Public Health) Global Health Fellows working throughout the world. Global Health Fellows are recent Master of Public Health or Doctoral graduates placed in CDC global health offices in Atlanta and abroad. They work on a range of priority public health issues and bring a fresh perspective to CDC’s efforts in the field. (See other “Fresh Voices” blogs.)
While the Caribbean is thought of as a paradise, with images of white sand beaches, blue seas, and tropical drinks inevitably coming to mind, the day-to-day situation for its inhabitants can be quite different. As the only ASPH Fellow assigned to the CDC Caribbean Regional Office, I have seen firsthand varying levels of poverty and fragile social infrastructures that most people know little to nothing about. CDC’s Caribbean Regional Office (CDC CRO), formed in 2002, serves 11 countries—this includes the English-speaking Caribbean and Suriname. CDC CRO’s mission is to improve the health of Caribbean people by supporting national governments and their partners to effectively respond to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and to use our office as a platform to address other urgent public health problems.
Since the first HIV/AIDS cases were reported in Haiti in 1981, the Caribbean has been confronted with what is best described as a mosaic of the disease varying considerably between and within countries in this region. There is an urgent need for more data to better understand the needs of high-risk groups, like men who have sex with men, for HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and treatment in this area of the world. As part of the Strategic Information Team, we have several studies underway that will provide valuable information to policymakers on these key populations. To obtain initial data on these groups, we conduct activities such as observational studies and mappings at locations where you can find these populations.
As we work towards achieving an AIDS-Free Generation, CDC’s role is instrumental in increasing the understanding and commitment to reaching key populations. This region will need to continue to aggressively implement strong, evidence-based prevention programs to target their most vulnerable and often hidden populations. They will also need to address the distinct social and individual challenges posed by HIV/AIDS in this region. Dedication to this course of action is critical to help those already afflicted by HIV/AIDS and to prevent the further spread of disease.
Samantha Dittrich is an ASPH/CDC Global Strategic Information Fellow. She has a Master’s of Public Health in Prevention Science from the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University. Originally from Charlottesville, Virginia, she has experience as a Senior Drug Safety Associate at PRA International, a global clinical research organization, and over seven years of clinical and pharmacovigilance experience.