By MORGAN ADDERLEY
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE country's main supplies of HIV/AIDs drugs have been restored, Health Minister Duane Sands confirmed yesterday.
In an interview with The Tribune, Dr Sands addressed the status of HIV/AIDs in the country, including The Bahamas' rank as having the highest prevalence of HIV outside Sub-Saharan Africa in the world and the international goal to eliminate the disease by 2030.
According to the "Global AIDS Monitoring Report: 2017", released by the Bahamas Ministry of Health, at the end of 2015, 8,667 people were listed as living with HIV in The Bahamas.
"This means that roughly 1 in 50 persons in The Bahamas in 2015 was HIV positive", the report says.
However, that same year 226 people were diagnosed with HIV -- a 43 percent drop from 2006, when 396 people were diagnosed.
Despite the drop, The Bahamas still ranks 17th in the world for HIV/AIDs adult prevalence rate, according to statistics by Index Mundi.
This puts the country below states such as South Africa (4), Kenya (12) and Tanzania (13) but above Rwanda (20) and Nigeria (21).
The Bahamas also has the highest rate in the region.
In reference to these statistics, Dr Sands said, "It is what it is. I mean, it is an acknowledgement of the…prevalence of HIV in The Bahamas."
Dr Sands said a combination of sexual behaviour -- both heterosexual and homosexual -- contributes to these high figures.
He added that mother-to-child transmission accounts for a "small contribution", but added the in recent years the country has virtually eliminated this.
When asked what can be done to further facilitate the downward trend in transmission and decrease the country's ranking, Dr Sands suggested adopting the 90-90-90 strategy by 2020.
"Ninety percent of people infected with HIV should know their status. So we need to get to a point of nearly universal testing of Bahamians to know their status."
"To have 90 percent of persons who are HIV positive to be on antiretroviral therapy. And to have 90 percent of people who are on antiretroviral therapy to have adequate suppression of the virus.
"We are nowhere near that right now," Dr Sands added.
"We have challenges with continued stigmatisation of certain high risk or vulnerable groups. And that interferes with individuals seeking or accepting therapy."
"We have a very conservative public approach when it comes to matters of human sexuality. And not withstanding the fact the general manifestation of sexual behaviour is not so conservative."
In late March, it was reported that there were HIV/AIDs drug shortages at facilities in New Providence.
At the time, Dr Sands noted that the country was at a "critically low level" of supplies.
Yesterday, he confirmed that supplies have been restored.
He added that health officials have increased the criteria for treatment and recognise that not all patients in The Bahamas can be adequately treated with either first- or second-line medications.
"And so while the supplies of antiretrovirals or HIV medications has been repleted, the fight against HIV is constantly going to have a moving goal or goal post," he said.
When asked to elaborate, Dr Sands reference the high number of patients in the country.
"We have roughly 8,000 patients living with HIV/AIDs. And we would like to have those individuals have a constantly improving quality of life. We want to minimise the number of new persons infected with HIV. And so it means that our approach will have to be constantly evolving."
This includes both the implementation and monitoring of treatments as well as counselling for children, teenagers, and adults "who face daily stigma and public recrimination".
"So, we can never ever rest on our laurels. It is a matter of constantly improving the care that is provided to those persons battling this disease, if we're going to get to a point where as the rest of the world has decided, we're going to eliminate HIV by 2030."