HIV Testing, Education Strategy Launched in Bahamas
A large-scale marketing campaign aimed at increasing HIV/AIDS awareness and testing was launched on Friday by the Bahamian National Center for HIV/AIDS, the Bahama Journal reports. The initiative -- called the HIV Prevention and Effective Condom Social Marketing Strategy -- was created under a partnership between the AIDS Secretariat and the Bahamas Loving Care Association and also involves taxi cab drivers. Rosa Mae Bain, director of the National AIDS Program, said, "We need to look at the masses. We need to address the country at large" and "not to point fingers, but to lend a helping hand." According to the Journal, 7,349 people in the Bahamas are living with HIV/AIDS -- 1,767 of whom have developed AIDS. Bain said officials "need every single Bahamian to know if they are HIV-positive or not" so they can receive services and medication to treat the virus, adding that people have been "dying prematurely because they didn't know their status."
About 1,700 people living with HIV have access to antiretroviral drugs in the Bahamas, an increase from 300 in 2002, and government spending for the medications is about $1 million, according to Bain. Bain said that the "concern is of the 7,000 people still living (with the virus), only a third of them are on medications. Granted, everyone doesn't need to be [on] medication if his or her immune system is still strong, but you need to be in care so that we would know if (the strength of the immune system) is failing."
Samuel Williams, president of the Bahamas Loving Care Association, urged members of the business community to support the new initiative and "issue some money to the AIDS Foundation so that they can go to every school in this country and send this message out." Richard Johnson, also of the Loving Care Association, said the HIV/AIDS epidemic is not taken seriously by many people in the Bahamas, adding that "a lot of people deny the fact and it has caught up with us." He added that the spread of the virus is preventable and that it is "incumbent on all of us to do whatever we can to bring the message to those who believe that it will not affect them" (Jones, Bahama Journal, 12/12).