Barbados continues to record a low HIV positivity rate but must now bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the country’s HIV response, Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr The Most Honourable Jerome Walcott said on Thursday.
In his World AIDS Day statement on Thursday, Dr Walcott reported that thanks to several levels of intervention by the Government since the late 90s, cases on the island have remained low.
“The prevalence of HIV in Barbados is estimated to be 1.5 per cent in persons aged 15 to 49 years of age,” he said.
“As a result of the provision of combination antiretroviral therapy since 2001, HIV has become a manageable chronic illness with reduced morbidity and significantly reduced mortality. In the last decade, the annual number of reported deaths amongst persons living with HIV remained below 60, compared to the highest reported figures of 120 in 1998.”
However, he said, over the past two years, challenges have arisen as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic “which impacted the local response to HIV and the achievement of targets”.
“This situation is not unique to Barbados as similar setbacks have been noted in our neighbouring Caribbean countries and around the world,” Minister Walcott said.
“Nevertheless, it is now time to refocus and redouble our efforts with renewed energy and commitment as we strive towards the even more ambitious 95-95-95 targets and the pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals which speak to ending AIDS by 2030.”
The 95-95-95 target calls for 95 per cent of all people living with HIV to know their HIV status, 95 per cent of all people with diagnosed HIV infection to receive sustained antiretroviral therapy, and 95 per cent of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy to have viral suppression by 2025.
Public Relations Officer with the National HIV/AIDS Commission, Fabian Todd, speaking during an outreach initiative by the commission at Q in the Community on Thursday, said that COVID-19 had greatly impacted a number of services over the past two years.
“COVID-19 would have limited us in what we could do in terms of HIV education. A lot of stuff was done online, a lot of social media; we kept the message there even though we could not be physically in the community as we are in the Botanical Gardens,” he said.
Meantime, the Health Minister lamented that stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS remains a concern.
“One of the factors affecting equity of access in Barbados is stigma, especially as it relates to those groups who are considered to be marginalised.
“Recognising that access to HIV and STI [sexually transmitted infection] services is an imperative, the Ministry of Health and Wellness, within the past year has strengthened its partnership with two non-governmental organisations in order to widen its reach to marginalised groups and increase access to key preventative and treatment interventions,” he said.
“Partnerships with Equals Inc. and the Barbados Family Planning Association have allowed for expanded provision of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) services and additional points of access for
Since the first HIV case was recorded in Barbados in 1984, 4 524 persons have been diagnosed with HIV, with the majority of these (63 per cent) being male. Males also account for the majority of persons diagnosed with advanced disease (67 per cent of AIDS cases). (SB)