BBC News Examines HIV/AIDS Programs, Prevalence in Barbados, GuyanaBBC News's Emma Joseph on Thursday reflected on how she has seen Barbados and Guyana make "huge strides" in HIV/AIDS care and treatment programs. "Five years ago, when I reported on HIV and AIDS in the Caribbean, the big issue was stigma and discrimination," Joseph writes, adding, "Now, I've seen how the quality of life for people living with the disease in Guyana and Barbados has improved dramatically." Still, "the infection rate in the Caribbean ... is only surpassed by the far higher figures in sub-Saharan Africa," according to Joseph.
According to Carol Jacobs, head of Barbados' National HIV/AIDS Commission, the country's HIV prevalence is 1.8%, which is "relatively high" compared with the average rate of 1.2% in the Caribbean region. Women between ages 15 and 29 have the highest HIV prevalence in the country, possibly resulting from having multiple sex partners or anal sex, BBC News reports. Jacobs said that men in Barbados often have multiple sexual partners and that "young women think if you can do it, so can we." According to Jacobs, Barbados will have a "big challenge on [its] hands" unless it can reduce the number of new cases in the country. Corey Lane of the HIV/AIDS commission said the country already has reduced the incidence of new HIV cases because every major public place now offers HIV testing. In addition, the "good news" is that HIV/AIDS-related deaths in Barbados have decreased by more than 70%, he said. However, Lane added that many adults and teachers "don't feel comfortable" discussing sex with young people because "they feel that they are too young to know about" these issues. He said the commission recently launched a "Champions Program" in which artists and musicians promote messages about safer sex to young people. Jacobs added that Barbados is implementing a five-year strategic plan for HIV/AIDS, which emphasizes "treatment and prevention, with behavior change and communication in particular."
According to BBC News, government support for people living with HIV/AIDS in Guyana also has "improved dramatically" over the past five years, and donors such as the World Bank and the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief have provided additional funds to promote HIV/AIDS awareness and education. Shanti Singh, head of Guyana's National HIV/AIDS Program, said the program at the end of 2006 conducted a survey that found an HIV prevalence of 1.55%, compared with an estimated prevalence of 2.4% in 2003 and 2004. In addition, HIV prevalence among female commercial sex workers has dropped significantly in recent years, BBC News reports. According to Singh, there is "a lot of work going on to educate the general public" in Guyana about HIV/AIDS, including "mass media campaigns, a lot of print media and education material." Guyana's HIV/AIDS program estimates that 5,000 people currently participate in a no-cost care and treatment program for people living with HIV. However, HIV still is the leading cause of death among people between ages 20 and 49 in Guyana, and HIV prevalence remains "extremely high" among commercial sex workers and men who have sex with men, BBC News reports (Joseph, BBC News, 12/4). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.