Hubert Minnis: AIDS-relateddeaths down to 70 annually
AIDS-related deaths in The Bahamas have been on the decline since the very first case of the disease was identified in the country, dropping by some 70 percent, Health Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis revealed yesterday.
He reported that The Bahamas went from 300 deaths from AIDS every year to around 70 for the last two years.
Minister Minnis’disclosure came during the Caribbean Regional HIV Prevention Summit on Most At Risk Populations and other Vulnerable Populations, being held at the Sheraton Nassau Beach Resort.
According to United States Ambassador to The Bahamas Nicole Avant, each year since 1994 AIDS has been the leading cause of death for persons between the ages of 15 and 49 years in The Bahamas.
“To combat this disturbing trend, which is reflected throughout the region-our HIV/AIDS prevention efforts must be better coordinated and more focused. We must use every tool at our disposal to improve the quality of services delivered, accelerate innovation, and fully leverage regional expertise. I am here today to reaffirm that the United States remains committed to partnering with The Bahamas and the Caribbean region to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and assist those who have contracted the disease,”Ambassador Avant said.
But Minister Minnis explained that while the country’s national HIV/AIDS program continues to be a global model, it is challenged with providing adequate service to the most at risk populations(MARPs)and other vulnerable population groupings(OVPs). In The Bahamas, MARPs and OVPs are regarded as sub-populations who are at greatest risk of inequitable access to health services due to immigration status, language barriers, stigmatization, lack of economic power and recognition of risky behaviors. These groups include adolescents and young adults, undocumented immigrants, and persons above the age of 50 years, Minnis noted.
He stressed that efforts to strengthen and expand prevention interventions aimed at individuals most at risk and people living with HIV, to protect their health and reduce the risk of HIV transmission to sex partners and children, are clearly needed.
“Another challenge to treatment continuity which ultimately affects the development of resistance to ARVs(antiretroviral drugs)is the detainment of illegal immigrants. There are currently no provisions for multilateral country agreements that address the continuity of medications between health systems in the respective countries,”Minister Minnis said.
He charged that much work is needed in identifying the commercial sex workers in a bid to control the spread of the disease. Additionally, he said there are still significant challenges that healthcare providers face in providing treatment for HIV/AIDS populations, especially for those most at risk.
Last June, Ambassador Avant signed the first PEPFAR(President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) agreement between the United States and The Bahamas alongside Minister Minnis.
“I am extremely proud of the commitment that the United States has made to respond to HIV/AIDS through the PEPFAR program-a commitment that represents the largest investment in history made by one nation to a single disease,”said Ambassador Avant.
Meanwhile, Dr. Perry Gomez, director of the National AIDS Program, charged that emphasis must be placed on those at-risk populations like homosexuals and migrants.
“If you don’t address those underlying pockets of HIV then they will feed the epidemic in each country,”he said.
PEPFAR employs a diverse prevention, treatment and care strategy with an emphasis on partnerships, transparency and accountability for results. PEPFAR’s focus has always been and continues to be saving lives.
Under the PEPFAR agreement, The Bahamas will receive more than$5 million in U.S. assistance over the next five years to support the fight against HIV and AIDS, serving as a tangible demonstration of the U.S. government’s support to one of its closest allies.
“As we work together to defeat HIV/AIDS in the region, we must also remember to address the human rights challenges that drive the spread of HIV-those of stigma and discrimination against vulnerable at-risk populations.
Last year alone, the U.S. Embassy awarded four grants totaling$25,000 to local organizations to raise awareness and promote tolerance in communities throughout The Bahamas. This funding went towards the establishment of a program called HIV Positive Youth, which included a free concert attended by 700 young people that promoted the message of tolerance and hope; three television public service announcements that targeted the stigma with HIV/AIDS, and a number of workshops on prevention and stigma reduction.
The U.S. Embassy is also actively working to address these issues by supporting grassroots efforts though the U.S. State Department’s Ambassador Fund for Prevention. Through this fund, the U.S. Embassy has provided more than$100,000 in small grants to local organizations that promote HIV/AIDS prevention, stigma reduction and public awareness.