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HIV/AIDS a challenge for Caribbean

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HIV/AIDS a challenge for Caribbean

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ATLANTA, Jun 8, CMC – Caribbean-American HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is being observed in the United States on Saturday with two experts indicating despite significant progress many challenges remain in addressing the epidemic in the Caribbean.
“Although tremendous progress has been achieved in the Caribbean region, and we have the tools needed to achieve an AIDS-free generation, many challenges remain,” said Dr.  Rachel Albalak and Dr. Jean Wysler Domercant of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Albalak, director of CDC’s Caribbean Regional Office, and Domercant, acting director of clinical services, noted in a statement that the Caribbean has higher HIV rates than any region outside of the sub-Saharan Africa “though the epidemic is relatively small”.
They said that, in 2011, an estimated 230,000 people were living with the virus in the Caribbean and that AIDS is the leading cause of death among people between the ages 29 and 59.
The experts said the HIV epidemic varies across the region but is mostly concentrated in key groups such as men who have sex with men and sex workers.
The two experts pointed to studies that show that men who have sex with men account for an estimated 30 per cent of the new HIV infections in Jamaica “making this the group at the highest risk of HIV infection”.
They said that prevalence rates in the general population in the Caribbean range from a low of one per cent in Suriname to a high of 2.8 per cent in The Bahamas.
The experts said that HIV affects young women 1.2 to 3 times more than young males in The Bahamas and Barbados, while in Jamaica, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago “the reverse is true.
“Although HIV rates appear to be declining in the general population, they continue to remain high in key, hard-to-reach groups,: said Albalak and Domercant, adding that the Caribbean region is “characterized by high levels of interdependence and migration between countries.
“It is critical to help those already affected by HIV/AIDS and to prevent the further spread of disease in the region,” they urged.
The HIV/AIDS experts noted that the US government agencies support countries in the Caribbean to “implement and expand high-quality integrated HIV/AIDS care and treatment services”.
They said Washington is also helping the region in expanding “effective prevention programs to halt new infections”, and strengthening and expanding high-quality laboratory services.
In addition, they said the US aids the Caribbean in developing and maintaining “robust health information systems,”strengthening surveillance systems, and ensuring “impact and accountability.
“The gains we’ve made are impressive, but our work is not done. A historic opportunity is before us achieving an AIDS-free generation.”
Caribbean-American leaders are sponsoring diverse activities to create awareness of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the health status of Caribbean-Americans within their specific communities.
According to the UNAIDS World AIDS Day Report 2012, the Caribbean has the sharpest declines in the number of new HIV infections worldwide since 2001, with a drop of more than 42 per cent.
For example, in Suriname, the rate of new HIV infections fell by an estimated 86 per cent, and in Haiti the rate fell by 50 per cent.
The report also said that from 2009-2011, the number of children acquiring HIV infection has declined significantly.
“Apart from high-income countries, the Caribbean is the only region with high coverage levels for effective antiretroviral treatment to prevent mother-to-child transmission, though coverage varies from country to country, with some countries exceeding the regional coverage level of 79 percent,” Albalak and Domercant said.