AIDS: Prognosis for the epidemic in Latin America, the Caribbean
01st December 2008
Today is being observed as World AIDS Day and Flair takes the opportunity to offer perspectives on the implications of the disease for our region.
The number of persons infected with the HIV/AIDS virus in 2007 was 33 million worldwide (possibly as high as 36 million). Of that number, 15.5 million were women, and some 2.3 million were children under the age of 15. The total number of new HIV infections
last year was 2.7 million (could be as high as 3.9 million); of that number, figures for adults were 2.3 million. Children under the age of 15 accounted for 370,000 new cases last year (could be as high as 410,000).
There were two million deaths from AIDS in 2007 (could be as high as 2.3 million); adult deaths were 1.8 million and the number of children under the age of 15 who died from the disease was 270,000 (could be as high as 290,000). By the end of last year, the number of children in the Caribbean living with HIV could be as high as 270,000.
These figures were disclosed in a presentation by Maria Lusia Zuniga PhD, assistant professor, Division of International Health and Cross-Cultural Medicine at the University of California, San Diego, in La Jolla, California, at the sixth annual workshop on health in Latin America and the Caribbean from September 22-25, organised by the Merck Sharp and Dohme.
Zuniga said there is apathy, resignation and despair as the disease hits closer to home and people have a lot more to do in terms of tolerance.
"This is the most studied disease in history but there are still countries that do not register their statistics on AIDS. The Caribbean has a severe problem and there is grave concern because of the total number of the region's population. The Caribbean is second in total figures per capita behind sub-Saharan Africa," she said.
She also noted that HIV/AIDS is not the first stigmatised disease (tuberculosis was too), but through the improper use of needles, one-third of the population of the Latin American border region will be infected by 2030. "That will be six million residents at the point between the entrance and exit of California and Mexico. In Tijuana, Mexico, one in every 25 persons may already be infected," she said.
At the time of the conference, figures showed that in San Diego county, Hispanics have the most HIV diagnoses in a year. But interestingly, Hispanics and Latinos wait the longest to get medical attention after being diagnosed. "There is a complicated set of reasons for this," she said, pointing out that stigma, social prejudice, exclusion and discrimination are all directed at the two groups by doctors and health-care workers.
Figures show the following obstacles to treatment:
26 per cent worry that others will think poorly of them.
18.5 remain sick because of the medication.
9.6 per cent worry that others will find out they are infected.
8.9 per cent are concerned that other people think they are infected.
"Women remain the most vulnerable while at some clinics in the region, many infected persons are given reasons such as running out of water, while some people still are of the view that you can get it if you are touched by an infected person," Zuniga disclosed.
In the Caribbean, epidemics occur in the context of high levels of poverty and unemployment, gender and other inequalities. These factors contribute to the spread of HIV and hinder efforts to control the epidemic. Young girls are at a high risk of exposure because there is a common practice of them maintaining relationships with older men who, because of their age, are more likely to have acquired HIV.
Source: Jamaica Gleaner