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Testing time

Officials report on HIV/AIDS situation

Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Anton Best says Barbados continues to grapple with cases of late stage HIV diagnosis.

According to 2013 statistics cited by Dr Best at Regional Testing Day (RTD) 2016 at the Caribbean Media Corporation this morning, Barbados recorded 104 HIV cases with men amounting for about two-thirds (71) of new cases.

However, he said of that number, a large percentage accounted for persons who had been infected years earlier.

Scotia Bank Caribbean East managing director David Noel, Shadow Minister of Health Dwight Sutherland and Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Anton Best.

Scotia Bank Caribbean East Managing Director David Noel, Shadow Minister of Health Dwight Sutherland and Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Anton Best.

“In 2013, 55 per cent of these persons newly diagnosed with HIV were at advanced stages of the disease at the time of their diagnosis. This indicates that we continue to diagnose people very late in the disease process and this is problematic for two reasons:

“One, late HIV diagnosis means that their chances of favourable outcomes are reduced and two, there is an ongoing risk of HIV transmission when someone is unaware of the HIV infection.”

Despite this, the top health official said annual HIV/AIDS figures continue to decrease.

“[The] decline is not a huge decline. We are not talking about a 25 per cent or a 50 per cent decline, we are talking about a relatively small decline,” the acting CMO said.

“So the statistics for 2013, we had 104 new cases of HIV diagnosed in Barbados and that’s in comparison to, I believe, 140 the year before and if you go back about a decade, we used to have numbers as high as 190, almost 200 cases.

“So yes, there has been a decline [which] really started just about ten years ago shortly after the introduction of anti-retroviral therapy,” the acting CMO said.

Barbados has also been recording success in limiting the incidence of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

“Over the last ten years, the rate of mother to child transmission has been approximately one per cent in Barbados. We still do get a few cases every now and again, but amazing success,” Dr Best told Barbados TODAY, following the official opening of RDT 2016.

He attributed that success to a Government policy that mandates that expectant mothers are offered HIV testing during pregnancy.

Meantime, he said his department continues its surveillance following the discovery of a new strain of HIV in Cuba two years ago.

“We are not detecting anything that would suggest that we have that new strain.

“Now to prevent a new strain from coming on the scene, it is important to diagnose people, get them in care and keep them in therapy. If any aspect of that does not perform as expected, you increase the likelihood of getting new strains developing,” the acting CMO said, alluding to continued stigma and discrimination.

“If you have a situation in which persons are not accessing therapy, are not accessing care as they ought to, you may have new strains developing if they have been put on therapy but because of stigma and discrimination, they stop going to the clinics,” he told Barbados TODAY.

He said stigma and discrimination remain a major concern for his department and revealed that officials were trying to implement systems and interventions that could increase the access that people have to HIV treatment services.

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