New HIV infections rising in region
Unprotected straight, anal and bisexual intercourse blamedSunday, November 20, 2011
BY INGRID BROWN Sunday Observer senior reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
NASSAU, Bahamas — Former head of Jamaica's National HIV programme Dr Peter Figueroa has said that the number of new HIV infections continue to rise in the Caribbean although the epidemic appears to have peaked.
Dr Figueroa was addressing participants pulled from 30 Caribbean governments, private sector, civil society and the HIV-infected and affected population who are attending the 2011 Caribbean HIV Conference now underway at Atlantis on Paradise Island, Bahamas.
Dr Figueroa said it is a wonder the epidemic has peaked given the many factors that continue to push the new infections rates up such as unprotected sex among heterosexuals, unprotected anal intercourse and high rates of bisexuality.
"We need to reduce the numbers by 25 per cent... we are doing well with mortality but not as well with new infections and social impact on persons infected," he said.
Meanwhile, Dr Figueroa said the HIV prevalence rates are much higher in countries which continue to criminalise homosexuality.
"We still have a serious problem with men who sleep with men and we have to provide a more supportive environment," he said, adding that Governments need to examine their policies and repeal buggery laws.
The HIV burden varies considerably between and within countries in the Caribbean, with Cuba having the lowest prevalence rate of 0.1 per cent while Bahamas has the highest in the region at 3.1 per cent.
The adult HIV prevalence rate in the Caribbean is about one per cent higher than in any other world region outside of sub-Saharan Africa.
Unprotected sex between men and women, especially paid sex, is thought to be the main mode of HIV transmission in the Caribbean.
High HIV infection levels have been found among female sex workers in the region with nine per cent in Jamaica, four per cent in Dominican Republic and 27 per cent in Guyana.
In Jamaica, an estimated 32 per cent of men who have sex with men are living with HIV.
Prime Minister of the Bahamas Hubert Ingraham, in addressing the opening ceremony of the three-day conference, said Bahamas recognised early the value of treating HIV and AIDS even before the discovery of the drugs in use today.
He said sustainable high-quality prevention treatment, care and support services that are accessible by all residents off the Bahamas living with or affected by HIV regardless of legal status or ability to pay, is the basic mission of the National HIV programme.
"Care is provided for all who need it, irrespective of immigration status and this includes clinical care and support, diagnostic testing and antiretroviral treatment.
Notwithstanding the decline in new cases and a major reduction in mother-to-child transmission and decreasing mortality, the prime minister said AIDS remains a leading cause of death among Bahamian men and women.
The USA, he said, also recently approved the Caribbean HIV/AIDS Training Initiative (CHART-II) for implementation of a regional approach to mitigate the impact of HIV/AIDS in 12 Caribbean Regional Partnership Framework (PF) countries: Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, and Suriname.
The goal of CHART-II is to improve HIV/AIDS-related health service delivery outcomes through the development of continuing education programmes, integrating pre-service and in-service training of the health workforce.
Despite the progress made in some areas, Ingraham said the total number of people living with HIV continues to rise.
"As we move forward in treating HIV/AIDS in the region, we acknowledge that there are still significant challenges in accessing vulnerable and at-risk individuals for diagnosis, care and treatment," he said.
Reports today, he said, record a shift in the distribution of new HIV/AIDS cases by race/ethnicity.
Additionally, the largest proportional increase in the disease is occurring in cases attributed to heterosexual transmission.
He said there are some notable success stories of survival rates with Bahamas having six young people who were born HIV positive still living relatively normal life.
"One is currently a student in college, and at least two of the others have produced children of their own," he said.
The best hope for containment of HIV/AIDS, he said, is a reduction in the number of new infections.
"We must scale up the prevention activities that have proven successful if we are to reverse the AIDS pandemic, while at the same time providing treatment and care of people living with HIV/AIDS," he said.
Meanwhile, Claudette Pious, convenor of Children First, said the intervention of its "bashy bus" programme has contributed to the reduction in forced sex among adolescents from 60 per cent in 2006 to 38 per cent in 2008.
The mean age of sexual initiations has also increased from 14.9 for females to 17.1, and for males, from 11.8 years to 13.9
The programme, she explained, serves over 47,250 young people annually, providing them access to free Voluntary Counselling and Testing.
The concept for the 'bashy bus' was born out of the problem of school-children having sex on the public buses.
The programme utilises cultural approaches and edutainment to encourage behaviour change among the youths.
Service is taken to the beneficiaries 'pon the corner' ' in d streetz', ' pon the endz' and in rural Jamaica in a bashy colourful and jazzy mobile unit.