Young people remain an area of concern for the Bahamas AIDS Foundation and, as a result, HIV/AIDS education, awareness and information about prevention must continue, according to Camille Lady Barnett, foundation president.
In 2020, Lady Barnett described the teen and young adult positivity numbers as “interesting”, as 21 percent of new cases were between the ages of 15 and 24.
“Young persons are still an area of concern,” she said. “As a result, HIV/AIDS education/awareness and information about prevention must continue.”
Lady Barnett said there were 133 new reported cases of HIV as of 2019, which she said shows that new cases continue to decline as The Bahamas gets closer and closer to zero new cases.
“There was zero HIV transmission from mother to child in the last three years [2019, 2020 and 2021],” said Lady Barnett as the foundation geared up to commemorate World AIDS Day on Thursday, December 1.
She said there was also an increase in the number of people living with HIV who are accessing the needed medical treatment.
“The Ministry of Health reports that there has been a 67 percent increase in HIV-positive persons accessing medication from 2012 to 2021.”
AIDS-related deaths declined from 114 in 2010 to 92 in 2017, and down to 70 people in 2019, according to the foundation president.
The statistics show that there are 4,447 people living with HIV in The Bahamas which equates to 1.3 percent of the population. This is down from 2017 when there were 5,287 persons living with HIV.
With education on HIV/AIDS a priority for the foundation, Lady Barnett said discrimination and stigmatization remains a major factor.
“Unfortunately, stigma and discrimination are still very real issues that we need to continue to tackle. I was made aware of a disturbing situation that involved a mother who found out that her young daughter was best friends with a little girl who was HIV-positive. The mother created quite a scene in a public setting and harassed the young girl who was HIV-positive. That poor child was traumatized and hurt, to say the least!”
Lady Barnett said lack of education about the transmission of HIV leads to stigma and discrimination.
The world also unites every year around a common theme for World AIDS Day. This year, the theme is “Equalize”, which speaks to the inequalities that exist around the world as it pertains to access to HIV testing, treatment and information on prevention.
“The removal of these inequalities is essential for ending AIDS. This theme is especially relevant for certain marginalized groups worldwide that may be discriminated against and excluded in society – example – sex workers, migrants and LGBTQ+. These groups should be treated with respect and afforded the same access to treatment with dignity,” said Lady Barnett.
“The 2022 theme ‘Equalize’ also speaks to the role that accurate information plays in reducing stigma and discrimination and resulting in more persons being willing to get tested, receive treatment and practice prevention,” she said.
Commemorating World AIDS Day remains relevant as it is a day to unite the world in the fight against HIV/AIDS, to remember those who have died of AIDS-related causes, and to commemorate people living with HIV/AIDS.
And in a COVID-19 era, Lady Barnett said the pandemic severely impacted the work of the foundation and that fundraising has been a challenge.
“Corporate partners are stretched. People are watching their dollars and our community is facing increasing prices,” she said.
They have had a few small fundraisers, including their annual raffle in June 2022.
She said she is grateful for their corporate partners whom she said have continued to support them as best as they can – the John Bull Group of Companies, J.S. Johnson, 700 Wines & Spirits, Ports International, Colina, CIBC FirstCaribbean, Central Bank, and the Securities Commission. She said they also have a few grants which enable them to continue some of work.
“For the last three years, we were not able to host our extremely successful Red Ribbon Ball, which is our major fundraiser. The foundation had to disengage 13 part-time staff and close the after-school component of our Outreach Programme for Children and Adolescents Infected and Affected by HIV/AIDS.”
Their outreach continues with just the social worker in place.
“Pre-COVID, we fed our kids a hot meal after school. Now, through the generous donation of an anonymous supporter, we deliver groceries weekly to supplement our clients’ needs,” said Lady Barnett.
“Twice a month, through the generous support of The Lord’s Kitchen and the Greek Orthodox Church, our clients receive a hot meal. Our social worker sometimes uses the virtual media to reach her clients because it is impossible for her to have face-to-face sessions, especially the group session, all the time.”