New HIV Cases Decline
The number of new HIV cases reported in 2003 declined for the third consecutive year, but health officials say there are still serious concerns regarding the spread of the deadly virus in the country.
Last year, 289 cases were reported. This compares to 332 in 2002; 385 in 2001 and 404 in 2000, according to newly released numbers from the Infectious Disease Division of the Princess Margaret Hospital and the Department of Public Health.
The most recent figure is also the lowest number of cases reported in a given year since officials reported 710 cases in the period 1986-1988.
Director of the HIV/AIDS centre Nurse Rosa Mae Bain reported that The Bahamas is the only country in the region that is witnessing a downward trend in new HIV cases.
She believes this positive trend has resulted from a consistent anti-AIDS education programme throughout The Bahamas.
“We’re marketing the condom use because it’s crucial that everybody who has sex with somebody knows the status of their partner,” Nurse Bain said. “If they don’t know, then they need to protect themselves with the condom.”
Her department is also getting set to launch a marketing campaign promoting the use of the female condom.
“They’ve been available for a while, but we’ve not really pushed it,” she said.
Officials of the National AIDS programme have also expanded their outreach in schools, working with grade six students encouraging them to delay the initiation of sexual activity.
“What we are also doing is training them if they are sexually active to protect themselves, that is crucial. They need to know about the availability of condoms, how to store them; how to use them; how to put them on and how to take them off,” Nurse Bain said.
The new numbers also show that the sexually active age group 15 – 44, continues to be the main group of people infected with the virus that causes AIDS.
AIDS is the leading cause of death in the age group 15 – 29.
The National AIDS programme has monitored the epidemic since 1983. As of December 31, 2003, there was a cumulative total of 9,725 total HIV infections, 4,758 cases of AIDS and 4,697 persons who are non-AIDS HIV positive.
Of the total 4,758 cases of AIDS, 3,309 have died. Of the total 9,725 infections, 6,920 occur in young adults between the age group of 15 – 44. The ratio of males to females infected with HIV is now 1:1.
Nurse Bain said there is still a serious concern as it relates to older men passing the virus on to young girls.
It’s a dilemma authorities continue to tackle. They say because of the high numbers of single mother homes, many girls are often easily enticed by material possessions and are therefore more inclined to have sex with men who can provide these things.
“We’re very well aware that approximately 70 percent of our babies are born to single parents,” Nurse Bain said. “Because of that, within the home-setting, there is not the male figure…we want to send a message out there, ‘Older men, please leave our young girls alone.’”
There is another practice of grave concern.
Nurse Bain said there are many girls who are engaged in rectal sex as protection from getting pregnant. They also see it as a way of having sex and remaining virgins. But she said there is serious danger in this practice.
“Once the lining of the rectum is torn and somebody has HIV, [men] can pass that on very, very quickly to our young girls,” she said. “This is a concern for both male and females. Next to blood transfusion, rectal sex is the easiest way to get HIV infected.”
The first clinical case of AIDS was reported in1983 and confirmed on post mortem in 1985. The first confirmed case of AIDS was reported in the Bahamas in August 1985 when antibody elisa testing became available, according to the Bahamas National HIV/AIDS Programme.
The Bahamas has the highest annual incidence rate of AIDS in the English speaking Caribbean, and is among the three nations with the highest incidence rates in the world.