UN reports thousands of ‘AIDS orphans’

United Nations AIDS (UNAIDS) data from 2018 revealed that roughly 2,000 children in The Bahamas are “AIDS orphans”.

The UN describes AIDS orphans as “children who have lost their mother or both parents to AIDS before reaching the age of 15. Approximately 8.2 million children around the world have been orphaned by the AIDS epidemic.”

The UNAIDS report “Advancing towards 2020: progress in Latin America and the Caribbean” showed that the number of people estimated to have HIV in the country remained unchanged, at roughly 6,000, a prevalence rate of 1.8 percent.

Of that number, 5,800 are aged 15 and over; 2,600 are women aged 15 and up; 3,300 are men 15 and older, and children 14 and younger account for less than 200 of the HIV cases.

The report found that 19.6 percent of an estimated 2,800 men who have sex with other men in The Bahamas are HIV-positive. The report noted that stigmatization may contribute to the high rates.

“Access to health care, HIV testing, and antiretroviral therapy, especially in young men, continues to lag in Caribbean countries,” it read.

“Faced with laws that criminalize sexual intercourse between people of the same sex, the risk for young men who have sex with men in the Caribbean is very high. HIV prevalence in men who have sex with men under 25 years of age is high, ranging between 1.1 percent and 26.6 percent in the countries that report these data.”

According to the 2018 data, prisoners in The Bahamas had a 2.2 percent HIV prevalence rate. However, only two prisoners were in HIV prevention programs.

The report noted that only 52 percent of Bahamians who know they have HIV are being treated with antiretroviral therapy. This was a slight increase over 2017 when only 49 percent of those infected with HIV were on antiretroviral therapy.

The data placed The Bahamas behind several of its Caribbean counterparts.

“Treatment coverage among people who know their status is more than 85 percent in Cuba, Haiti and Suriname, and above 65 percent in the Dominican Republic and Guyana,” the report read.

The Bahamas also performed poorly compared to others in the region when it came to the average knowledge of HIV prevention methods. The report found that only 4.4 percent of the population between ages 15 to 24 had sufficient knowledge about HIV prevention.

Young women knew less with 2.8 percent, while 5.8 percent of young men had knowledge about HIV prevention.

“According to MICS surveys conducted in Caribbean countries, more than 90 percent of adolescents and people aged 15–24 years have heard about HIV but have low knowledge on HIV prevention indicators,” the report read.

“Knowledge of the three methods for HIV prevention is only 2.8 percent in women and 5.8 percent in men in The Bahamas; 47.6 percent in women and 44.8 percent in men in Barbados; 41.4 percent in women and 45 percent in men in Belize; 60.9 percent in women and 58.6 percent in men in Cuba; 46.4 percent in women in the Dominican Republic; 51.5 percent in women and 40 percent in men in Guyana; and 38.3 percent in women and 36.2 percent in men in Haiti.”

However, in some other areas, The Bahamas outperformed many of its regional counterparts, especially with respect to access to treatment.

“Despite the WHO recommendations and significant contributions from research on pre-exposure prophylaxis, countries in the region have been slow to include this as a prevention tool in public policies,” it read.

“Pre-exposure prophylaxis is offered through the public health system only in The Bahamas and Barbados as part of the national HIV strategies.

“[A]ll Caribbean countries provide post-exposure prophylaxis in both primary care and emergency services for occupational exposure and in cases of sexual assault.

“In addition, some countries, such as The Bahamas, Barbados, Haiti, and Jamaica, have incorporated the WHO recommendations to provide post-exposure prophylaxis in cases of unprotected sexual intercourse.”

The report also found that The Bahamas is one of 10 of the 16 Caribbean countries that have partially or fully adopted the WHO recommendation for the treatment of all people with HIV regardless of CD4 count.

It also noted The Bahamas, unlike a majority of countries in the region, has laws criminalizing the non-disclosure and transmission of HIV.

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Rachel Knowles

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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