AIDS leading cause of death in the Caribbean – Report

New York, N.Y., May 31, 2006 – AIDS is the leading cause of death among adults aged 15 – 44 years in the Caribbean and claimed an estimated 27, 000 lives in 2005.

That’s according to the latest UNAIDS 2006 Report on the global AIDS epidemic. Experts cited that fact in Guyana, stating that AIDS has become the number one cause of death among people aged 25–44 years and national HIV prevalence stood at an estimated at 2.4 in 2005.

The report, released yesterday, claims that a total of 330,000 people are living with HIV in the Caribbean and 22, 000 are children younger than 14 years old. An estimated 37, 000 people became infected with HIV in 2005 while women comprise 51 percent of adults living with HIV in the region.  In Trinidad and Tobago, for example, females in their late teens (15–19-years old) were six times more likely to be HIV infected and in Jamaica, two and-a-half times more likely compared with males of the same age.

“These patterns are caused mainly by a combination of girls’ and young women’s physiological susceptibility, and the relatively common practice of younger women establishing relationships with older men (who, by virtue of their age, are more likely to have acquired HIV),” stated the report.

Meanwhile, some 12 percent of reported HIV infections in the Caribbean region is attributable to unprotected sex between men. However, “Homophobia and strong socio cultural taboos that stigmatize same sex relations mean that the actual proportion could be somewhat larger,” added the report.

The report also noted that while HIV infection levels have decreased in urban parts of Haiti and in the Bahamas and have remained stable in neighboring Dominican Republic and Barbados, such progress has not been enough to undo the Caribbean’s status as the second-most affected region in the world.

And overall, less than one in four or twenty-three percent of nationals in need of antiretroviral therapy was receiving it in 2005. 

Cuba, with adult HIV prevalence of 0.1 percent and about 4,800 people living with HIV, however, remains an anomaly in the region.

Globally, an estimated 38.6 million people are living with HIV while there were some 4.1 million new infections last year and an average of 2.8 million deaths from AIDS. The new report is being released in advance of the United Nations General Assembly 2006 High Level Meeting on AIDS, which will bring world leaders to New York from 31 May – 2 June to review progress made since the historic signing of the 2001 Declaration of Commitment, which established concrete, time-bound goals for improving the global AIDS response.

St. Kitts and Nevis’ Prime Minister and CARICOM Head of Government with responsibility for Human Resources, Health and HIV/AIDS, Dr. Denzil L. Douglas, is leading a delegation of   50 representatives from the Caribbean to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session.

According to the CARICOM Secretariat, among the key issues to be tabled by the CARICOM/PANCAP delegation are long term and predictable financing for an effective response; prevention; human rights, stigma, discrimination and gender equity, human resource capacity and political commitment and leadership. (HBN)