By JEFFARAH GIBSON
Tribune Features Writer
TOMORROW the world re-commits to the fight against HIV/AIDS.
World AIDS Day, observed annually on December 1, is more than an opportunity to raise awareness. It has become a major global event that is designed to expand and strengthen the worldwide effort to stop the spread of HIV and AIDS.
The Bahamas has been going head-to-head in the fight and has reached its own milestones since committing to the global initiative to end AIDS, also called the Fast Track Strategy, aimed at bold, ambitious targets to be reached by the year 2020.
While some of those goals have yet to be realised, they include identifying 90 percent of people living with HIV, place 90 percent of positively identified individuals on antiretroviral therapy, to ensure that 90 percent of those on therapy are able to achieve undetectable viral loads, indicative of treatment success.
According to a statement by the Ministry of Health and Wellness, the Bahamas has been making strides towards hitting the bull’s eye on the global targets.
The ministry highlighted these milestones, including newly diagnosed HIV infections have decreased by 53 percent between 2010 and 2019, with 133 new diagnoses in 2019; AIDS related deaths have decreased by 52 percent from 146 in 2010 to 70 in 2019. There were no reported cases of mother-to-child transmission of HIV in the years 2015, 2019 and 2020; treatment for HIV positive individuals is and has been available free of charge, and 63 percent of people living with HIV in 2020 were on treatment. This number of individuals in treatment represents an increase by 33 percent from the year 2013.
The gap between treatment and prevention has ended. Treatment is prevention with a person with undetectable viral load (the gold standard) being HIV untransmittable.
In 2020, 72 percent of people on treatment achieved viral suppression.
“The year, 2021, has been a year of collective action, resilience and of courage despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The National HIV/ AIDS Programme (NAP) is grateful for the lives that have been saved, as HIV treatment and prevention efforts continued throughout the pandemic where all services remained open to the public. Through strategic partnership with civil society, the NAP ensured the delivering of life saving medication to those living with HIV and has sustained access to HIV services,” the statement by the ministry said.
In spite of all the strides made, there is still more to be done.
These are also the sentiments echoed by President of the HIV/AIDS Foundation, Lady Camille Barnett.
During these difficult times, Lady Barnett said they have continued to provide support to its clients through a number of initiatives, including donating groceries and hot meals on a weekly basis. Clients of the foundation also have access to counselling as well and food and clothing, and assistance with clinic visits and medications. Access to a social worker also helps clients to find jobs and prepare them for the work place.
The foundation also ensures young people a part of the programme have access to academic support through essential tools.
In order to continue the vital work it carries out, the foundation needs the continued support of the public.
As part of its initiative to raise awareness, the foundation will be hosting a candlelight vigil tonight at 6pm.
The foundation continues to blaze a trail by providing continuous education and awareness while also assisting in the prevention of HIV/AIDS.