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HIV numbers down; officials continue to stress prevention

Guardian Staff Reporter

Published: Dec 02, 2016

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The Bahamas recorded approximately 220 new HIV/AIDS cases in 2015, a 56 percent reduction since the year 2000, according to National HIV/AIDS Programme Director and Infectious Disease Consultant at Princess Margaret Hospital Dr. Nikkiah Forbes.

Forbes spoke to The Nassau Guardian at an HIV/AIDS candlelight vigil at Fort Charlotte on Wednesday evening, ahead of World AIDS Day, which was observed yesterday.

Today, some 8,600 people in The Bahamas are living with HIV/AIDS, according to Forbes.

One in every 50 people in The Bahamas has been diagnosed with the virus.

“The Bahamas has reported a high prevalence in years gone by, but we’re seeing a reduction in new infections,” she said.

“... We have a message of hope.”

Forbes said the 220 new cases is the lowest number of cases reported in any year since 2000.

The theme of World AIDS Day this year was ‘Act Now, End AIDS by 2030’.

“You would’ve seen that the United Nations (UN) has a global vision to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030,” Forbes noted.

“Essentially, how we hope to do this is [by improving] our reach to look at preventing new infections, getting persons diagnosed and getting them into care.

“We really want to... suppress the load of the HIV virus in the blood stream which is essential for [people’s] health and it plays a role in reducing new infections.”

Globally it is estimated that 36 million people live with the virus.

Forbes stressed that local work to fight the virus and to spread the message of hope across the country is a partnership between the government and civil society.

She highlighted the need for a society that does not discriminate against HIV/AIDS patients but welcomes them with open arms and hearts.


A message of hope

There is still no known cure for HIV/AIDS, but treatments have been proven to keep those diagnosed healthy and allow them to live “normal” lives.

Forbes noted that the fight against HIV/AIDS is very much alive.

She encouraged those diagnosed to “keep fighting”.

“There is a lot of work being done in cures for HIV,” she said.

“There is going to be new innovative treatment methods that are going to change the way we look at HIV treatment.

“Once a person is on medication... [he or she could] live a healthy life and there is lots of hope.

“But it’s not just about treatment alone.

“It is about partnerships and society.

“We all play a role in reducing stigma and discrimination and in promoting a quality life for all... so that people can feel comfortable to get tested and treatment.

“If you have HIV, there is a lot of hope and support out there.

“You don’t have to do it alone.”

Bahamas AIDS Foundation President Camille Lady Barnett is also pushing the message of hope.

She said her foundation has focused on adolescents and has seen a significant increase in their attitudes toward life while living with the virus.

“The kids are happy,” Lady Barnett said.

“They see themselves as a family.

“They look after each other.

“Their health is better.

“They have a sense of the future.

“They want to go to school and they want to get jobs.

“That’s what we wanted to do

“We wanted to spread hope.”

“... We need to remember those who died from AIDS-related causes, but we also need to celebrate the lives of those who are still with us.”

The Bahamas has led the charge in HIV/AIDS treatment, care and support throughout The Caribbean.

Medications are free of cost to all people infected with the virus.

World AIDS Day was the first global health day, and was held for the first time in 1988.

Despite the virus only being identified in 1984, more than 35 million people have died of HIV or AIDS, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history, according to statistics.



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