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Posted by:Dec 2nd 2005, 11:29:56 am
Fig Tree News Team

2nd December
Bahamians Urged To “Turn The Tide”
Bianca Symonette

On a day when the world paused to remember persons who died from AIDS and renew the promise to stamp out the deadly disease, officials of the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS in a statement from New York recognized that adult infection rates have decreased notably in countries like The Bahamas.

"However, globally, the epidemic continues to grow: The number of people living with HIV in 2005 has reached its highest level ever, at an estimated 40.3 million people, nearly half of them women," the UNAIDS statement said.

Locally, officials also recognized progress in the fight against AIDS and recommitted themselves to putting in place measures to continue the positive trend of reducing new infections.

Addressing the annual World AIDS Day service at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral yesterday, Minister of Health Dr. Marcus Bethel said The Bahamas has a lot to be thankful for.

"The decline in HIV infections continues, hospital beds that were occupied in years past have declined because of improved access to the latest treatments so that people living with HIV can live healthier, longer, more productive lives," Dr. Bethel said.

He said The Bahamas has been so successful in decreasing the number of persons contracting the virus that the children’s ward for HIV/AIDS patients at the Princess Margaret Hospital is empty.

Furthermore, he said the transmission rate from mothers to babies has declined and is currently less than one percent among mothers who attend clinic and receive antiretroviral medications.

But despite The Bahamas’ success, Dr. Bethel said there is need for people here to do more to protect themselves from HIV.

"In the face of so many tragedies this year, the tsunami in Asia, the hurricanes in North and Central America and the massive earthquake in the Middle East, it is possible that we lose our focus on the continuing global crisis that is HIV/AIDS," Dr. Bethel said.

"And yet now more than ever we as individual Bahamians must join with other nations in our region and across our planet to continue the fight against AIDS."

According to the UNAIDS website, despite progress made in a small but growing number of countries, the AIDS epidemic continues to outdo global efforts to contain it. The latest statistics released on November 21, 2005 by UNAIDS show that in 2005, about 14,000 new HIV infections a day were reported.

Globally, 3.1 million people died of AIDS, including 570,000 children under 15, UNAIDS said.

According to UNAIDS, the AIDS epidemic claimed an estimated 24,000 lives in the Caribbean , making it the leading cause of death among adults aged 15 to 44 years. A total of 300,000 people are currently living with HIV in the Caribbean, including 30,000 people who became infected in 2005.

Dr. Bethel said Bahamians must be reminded of pledges made years ago to turn the tide against HIV/AIDS in the regions most affected by it.

In 2001, 186 nations agreed to achieve the following by the end of 2005:

Reduce HIV prevalence by 25 percent among men and women aged 15 to 24 in the most affected countries; ensure that at least 90 percent of young people aged 15 to 24 have access to the information necessary to develop life skills; reduce the number of infants affected with HIV by 20 percent and increase annual spending on HIV/AIDS to between $7 billion and $10 billion in low and middle income countries.

"The Bahamas was one of the countries that agreed to help make those goals come true," Dr. Bethel reminded.

"Today, all Bahamians must share in the responsibility to turn the tide against HIV and the co-infections of tuberculosis and other STDs. The successes we have experienced here at home must be transferred throughout our region and throughout the world."

The health minister added that The Bahamas must command the influence and resources needed to secure progress in the ongoing fight against HI/AIDS.

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