No major change in people living with HIV in the Caribbean
The number of people living with the HIV virus in the Caribbean reached 260,000 amid continuing concerns from health and other officials that the rate of increase has varied little since the late 1990’s.
“I think the prevention programmes in many countries are not reaching the right people,” Michel de Groulards, regional Programme Adviser, UNAIDS Caribbean Regional Support Team, told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) ahead of the 2011 Caribbean HIV Conference that opens here later on Friday.
“What we are looking at is that new infections are not going down or going down enough, he said, adding “we still have to many people who are infected.
De Groulards believes also that one factor may be that after 25 years of providing treatment, some countries may have reached a plateau and in others cases people considered to be at risk, including men having sex with men, are not targeted.
The conference with the theme “Strengthening Evidence to Achieve Sustainable Action” will be addressed by Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham and will also include an award presented to Donna M. Christensen of the United States Virgin Islands Delegate to Congress for her years of service in the fight against HIV.
Figures released by UNAIDS show that adult HIV prevalence in the Caribbean is about one per cent higher than in any other world region outside the sub-Saharan Africa and that there has been a slight decline in new HIV infections in the region, from 20,000 in 2001 to 17,000 in 2009.
The figures also show that AIDS related deaths in the Caribbean fell from an estimated 19,000 in 2001 to 12,000 in 2009 and that the “HIV burden varies considerably between and within countries in the Caribbean”.
Cuba, for example, has a very low HIV prevalence of 0.1 per cent while the Bahamas has the highest HIV adult prevalence in the region at 3.1 per cent.
De Groulards told CMC that what has also changed in the region is the fact that now 48 per cent of the people infected were now receiving anti retroviral drugs and in some countries it is as high as 80 per cent.
“That shows it is possible to get (treatment),” he said, adding that it is also a matter of political will and financial resources given the fact that most of the funds coming from major aid donors were drying up due to the ongoing global financial crisis.
“We have reached the stage where the most difficult part is ahead of us,” he said, making reference to the financial shortfalls and its impact of treatment.
He said the problems for Caribbean countries now also include “how do we sustain the treatment; how are we to expand the treatment to those who need it most (and) also we need to understand why the 52 per cent of people who need it (anti retroviral drugs) do not get it.
De Groulards said that most Caribbean countries are making provisions within the national budgets for funding health care geared towards the general population and a “very limited percentage” of those funds target people at infected or at high risk of HIV.
De Groulards said that even though the figures may show a slight decline in infections, what that is still not known is what percentage of the high risk people are affected since “one of the weaknesses is that we don’t have all the data we need.
“…for many countries, the capacity for data collection is not always there,” he said, noting also that many people in small Caribbean countries go abroad for testing.
He said “it is clear that the decriminalisation of homosexuality will not get the rate down” by itself, adding that the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS are still very much a factor in the Caribbean.