Widespread Discrimination, Lack of HIV Education Fueling Spread of Virus in Caribbean, Health Officials Say
A widespread lack of HIV/AIDS awareness and education in the Caribbean is hampering efforts to reduce the spread of the virus in the region, health officials said on Sunday at the Caribbean Summit on HIV/AIDS in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, the AP/International Herald Tribune reports. In addition, HIV-positive people often delay seeking treatment for fear of discrimination by employers and others, and many people in the region perceive HIV/AIDS as a disease that largely affects men who have sex with men, officials said at the conference. "It's going to be a political challenge because, unfortunately, we live in a society that is very homophobic," Douglas Slater, health minister for St. Vincent and the Grenadines, said. According to Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.), co-chair of the Congressional Caribbean Caucus, the 15-member Caribbean Community has not obtained sufficient international funding for prevention and treatment efforts in the region. "Caricom needs to step up to the plate and demand these federal funds," Payne said. An estimated 500,000 people in the Caribbean, or 2.4% of the population, are HIV-positive, and the region has the second-highest prevalence after sub-Saharan Africa, the AP/Herald Tribune reports. About 24,000 people in the Caribbean died from AIDS-related illnesses in 2005, making the disease the leading cause of death among people ages 15 to 44, Barry Featherman -- president of the Inter-American Economic Council, which organized the conference -- said. Caribbean-based studies have found businesses that invest in HIV prevention programs save money by reducing health care costs and hiring more productive workers, officials said. However, efforts to educate the population on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment have not been strengthened, Payne said. Albert Ramdin, assistant secretary-general for the Washington, D.C.-based Organization of American States, said, "This (pandemic) has major implications for governance, national security, human security and the economic viability of many of these countries whose resources are already stretched" (AP/International Herald Tribune, 1/21).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.