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Officials expand access to AIDS drugs

Minister of Health Dr. Hubert Minnis said yesterday his ministry is slowly introducing HIV/AIDS medication within the public health clinics.

“Just as individuals go to receive their medication for hypertension, [HIV patients] would be in the mix and therefore receive [their] medication the same time.  So that’s where we’re moving to,” he told The Nassau Guardian.

Minnis was attending the fourth annual College of The Bahamas HIV/AIDS testing day.

Marva Jervis, manager of the HIV/AIDS Centre, said that previously, patients had to go to a central clinic to get medication.

She said that having one central clinic — which is located at Princess Margaret Hospital — may have deterred some patients from seeking medication due to fear of discrimination.

“It became cumbersome [as well] because there are only a few persons working in that clinic,” Jervis said.

“The government has given us latitude in which to hide people and protect them in the system.

“What the government has decided, is to offer universal access. It must be easily accessed [even] in Inagua. Care must be the same throughout The Bahamas.

“So the government’s take on it is that they want the same quality care offered at the clinic at every government agency in The Bahamas.

Jervis said the service is slowly coming on stream in the clinics now.

“Every clinic knows that they have HIV positive persons that come to the clinic,” she said.  “The only thing the clinic now has to do is offer the specialized service [to treat them].”

Minnis also said that there are still people coming forward seeking treatment, “but there is still that fear”.

“We are finding that the numbers of patients with AIDS would have increased in The Bahamas, but the reasons are not necessarily [that there are] new cases but because we are treating individuals [and they] are living longer and therefore that number would increase,” he said.

“I think once there is that degree of secrecy we can move the stigma of AIDS from the community [and] we will find more individuals.”

Minnis said the country has progressed far in HIV/AIDS treatment.

“[One time] ago, if an individual had AIDS, you didn’t want to shake his hand,” he said.  “Once we understood the disease [and that] once you treat all the patients the same you realized that there was no difference.”

Lady Camille Barnett, president of the Bahamas AIDS Foundation, noted that this year’s slogan is “Do You KYS?” (know your status).

Barnett said that in the four years that COB has had an HIV/AIDS testing day, only one person has tested positive for the disease.

“One is one too many obviously, but we are really above the national average which is three percent of the population,” she said.

“Last year, we tested 237 and this year we aim to get over that. The results are same day, which is the beauty of it.”

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