Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Bahamas: New HIV cases set to increase


Tribune Staff Reporter -

THE number of new HIV cases in The Bahamas is set to increase, health experts have revealed.

If trends recorded in the early part of this year hold until its end, this year will see a worrying rise, said Dr Perry Gomez, director of the National AIDS Programme.

From January to April 2009 Mr Gomez said 57 more people -- 29 men and 28 women -- were added to the list of people infected with the virus in The Bahamas.

Meanwhile, during the same period, 42 people with HIV saw their disease progress to the critical AIDS stage of the illness, resulting in 22 deaths during those four months.

"If we multiply 57 times four, we get 228. That would be more than we had last year. We'll have to see how things pan out," said Dr Gomez.

This potential rise in new HIV cases comes even as the National AIDS Programme has had impressive success in minimising the number of cases which are progressing to the critical AIDS stage of the disease, suggesting that while access to treatment and education in this regard has had an impact, people are still not getting the message about HIV prevention.

Dr Gomez disclosed the latest figures as he, with President of the AIDS Foundation Camille Barnett, and organisers of this year's Red Ribbon Ball appealed to the public to continue to support the annual fundraising gala despite hard economic times.

Tickets are $200 each for the November 21 event, which has over the past 16 years raised $700,000 for the AIDS Foundation -- a non-governmental organisation that assists in providing education, counselling, housing, medication and other basic necessities to people "infected and affected" by the virus.

Sandra Knowles, a director at major sponsor Colina Imperial Insurance Ltd and co-chair of the organising committee for the ball, reminded the public that "need knows no season" and now is not the time to give up on supporting the HIV/AIDS fight.

"We are hoping to raise at least $50,000...but if we could maintain what we got last year, that would be a miracle and God's blessing," said Mrs Knowles.

Mrs Barnett noted that within the next couple of months the AIDS foundation is embarking on a new outreach initiative which will cost a significant amount of money.

The programme, aimed at providing support to adolescents suffering from HIV/AIDS, is expected to see trained professionals connect with the young people, who often struggled to cope with their healthcare regimes, on a weekly basis.

"The foundations wants to assist these young people to achieve their right to health and right to life. We would like to empower these youths to truly believe they are accepted, safe and well," said Mrs Barnett.

In this regard, Dr Gomez commented on the case of a 20-year-old man born with HIV as a result of his mother being infected who died in the last six weeks, "in short, because of neglect."

"He had no support, he lived alone, aged 20, parents deceased, no help," said Dr Gomez.

Despite advances made by the National AIDS programme and the AIDS foundation, the NAP director said the fight against HIV/AIDS still has a long way to go in The Bahamas and therefore still needs the support of members of the public and corporate donors.

Highlighting this, he noted that although The Bahamas has been described as a model of best practice for reducing mother-to-child HIV transmission, last year saw four babies born with HIV to HIV positive mothers.

"Stigma and discrimination remains a huge problem that keeps people away from care. In the mother-to-child programme we went for a few years with almost no transmission at all from mother to child in people who came for care.

"We normally have one or two (babies born with HIV each year). Last year we had four women who had no ante-natal care, so we had four children born with HIV last year.

"That's the most we've had in ages and so there's still a lot to do with maintaining the programme of awareness and care and making sure that people get in for care," said Dr Gomez, who also noted that The Bahamas' standout reputation for good ante-natal care for HIV/AIDS infected mothers has seen numerous women travel here in recent years from across the region seeking care in the country's public clinics.

Providing a cumulative overview of the impact of HIV/AIDS in the Bahamas since it was first detected in this country, Dr Gomez said that up to the end of 2008 a total of 6,103 people in The Bahamas have contracted AIDS -- 3,626 men and 2,477 women. Of these, "4,000 plus" have died already, or 66 per cent, while 2,078 are "alive and living well with AIDS."

Meanwhile, up to the end of 2008 there was also a cumulative total of 5,387 people infected with HIV, 2,678 men and 2,726 women.

That means that there are around 7,400 people living in The Bahamas at the moment who are known to be infected with HIV/AIDS, with a current "one to one" male to female ratio -- a change from the historically greater prevalence of HIV/AIDS in men than women.

Dr Gomez noted that there are also "certainly people who have HIV/AIDS and do not know because they have never been tested", meaning that the actual rate may be much higher.

October 07, 2009