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BEA DOTTIN, [email protected]


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While many may focus on the economy at this time, the country should not lose sight of the critical importance of health, given the threat that HIV/AIDS poses to a critical component of our people, those between 15 and 44.
Through the years, Government has responded by educating Barbadians and by embarking on a series of measures aimed at changing the behaviour of people and ensuring that those already infected by the virus receive appropriate treatment modalities.
In 2007 the PAHO/WHO created a technical cooperation area to evaluate the response of health systems to HIV in the Caribbean, and their report on Barbados shows very encouraging improvement made by the Government in dealing with the problem.
Barbados and two other Caribbean countries, Guyana and Cuba, have attained targets of 80 per cent or higher of the universal access targets. What this means is that the island has achieved a significant reduction in newly diagnosed HIV infections during the period 2001-2010; a significant expansion of HIV care and treatment services and decentralized testing estimated at reaching 86 per cent of those who need it; and a reduction of AIDS mortality rates from .05 to less than 10 per cent.
Perhaps most important of all is the reduction of mother to child transmission of HIV to two per cent or less, with no such cases reported in the past four years, and a reduction of the incidence of syphilis to 0.5 per cent cases or less per 1 000 live births, with the island having no reported cases of congenital syphilis in the last seven years.
These achievements speak to the good work being done by the Ministry of Health, the Chief Medical Officer, the polyclinics and the National HIV/AIDS Commission, the HIV/AIDS Prevention Programme and all the other stakeholders who have played a part in containing this problem.
But the fight employs significant financial resources. The report points out that HIV care and treatment commenced in this island in 2002 and has been provided free of charge to Barbadians primarily through the public health system, contributing to the island being one of the three countries in the region to have achieved the universal access targets.
We note, however, that the PAHO report has cautioned that there seems to be some tension between the National HIV/AIDS Commission and the HIV/AIDS Prevention Programme, with two ministries having control of these two entities, and urged measures to ensure even greater efficiency by reorganizing this division of labour.
We urge national support for the programmes and indeed for the elimination of stigma against those who are afflicted with the virus. The success of the Ministry of Health in dealing with this matter speaks volumes for Barbados’ capacity to deal decisively with those challenges with which we are faced from time to time.
The AIDS pandemic is the kind of lifestyle choice that has national implications, and it is therefore the business of all at the national level.
The PAHO/WHO report makes it clear that we have made admirable progress, but also makes it clear that the battle is ongoing and that early sexual initiation, multiple partners and inconsistent condom use make an even more comprehensive programme for prevention absolutely critical.