Sunday, November 13, 2011

HIV/AIDS prevalence is 14 percent among men who have sex with men (MSM) in The Bahamas... which is nearly double the eight percent documented in 2008 by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), according to director of The Bahamas National HIV/AIDS Programme, Dr. Perry Gomez

HIV prevalence 14 percent among men who have sex with men

By Royston Jones Jr
Guardian Staff Reporter

Nassau, The Bahamas

The prevalence of HIV/AIDS in The Bahamas among men who have sex with men (MSM) is near 14 percent, which is nearly double the eight percent documented in 2008 by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), according to director of the National HIV/AIDS Programme, Dr. Perry Gomez.

However, Gomez pointed out yesterday that that percentage increase is a result of better reporting, data collection methods and better access to the MSM community, which has been regionally identified as one of the most vulnerable groups.

“It was not until the last United Nations General Assembly (UNGASS) report where we did report that figure of almost eight percent,” noted Gomez, during a press conference at the Ministry of Health on Augusta Street.

“A lot of focus is being placed on MSMs as one of the drivers of the epidemic in nearly all countries [but] that was really based on a very small sample.  Over the last three years we have been really making many more inroads into that community.”

The UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS was held in New York in June 2011 to review progress and renew commitments to halt and reverse the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Gomez pointed out that there was very limited information on the MSM community resulting in many reports in The Bahamas being left blank in previous years.

He noted that workshops have been held on how to approach and how to better access the MSM community, which is part of a multilateral approach to target MSMs.  The most recent workshop was held on Thursday, noted Gomez.

“It is being done through PEPFAR who brought in an expert in that particular field,” he said.

“These are very private people and so it is not easy to access [that community].  Through getting to know some of them, there has been a number of testing parties sponsored by the group in conjunction with us.”

The U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is the largest component of the U.S. President’s Global Health Initiative.

PEPFAR aims to save the greatest number of lives by increasing and building upon what works and, then, supporting countries as they work to improve the health of their own people, according to the U.S. Government interagency website.

Gomez said that Jamaica, which had a 31.8 percent prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS among MSMs in 2008, has in comparison been ahead of The Bahamas because the country has been more organized with the MSM community.

“We knew the focus of our epidemic in the beginning in The Bahamas was amongst cocaine addicts and it spread from them to us,” Gomez said.

“Why they were vulnerable was because of the drug and the high number of sexual partners with both sexes.  They remain a vulnerable group in our community.  In the next two years we hope to have better data on it.”

The government of The Bahamas is co-sponsoring the 2011 Caribbean HIV Conference at Atlantis Resort November 18 - November 21.

The conference is expected to attract approximately 2,000 people from over 40 countries and territories, including prime ministers and ministers of health from the region.

Nov 12, 2011