Prostitutes leading HIV/AIDS spread

NEW YORK, United States, July 30, 2008 – A new United Nations HIV/AIDS report has pointed to heterosexuals having sex with prostitutes as one of the leading drivers of the spread of the epidemic.

The report, which comes ahead of next month’s AIDS conference in Mexico, pointed out that the main mode of HIV transmission in the Caribbean remains paid unprotected heterosexual intercourse.

Among female sex workers, HIV prevalence of 3.5 per cent was found in the Dominican Republic, 9 per cent in Jamaica and 31 per cent in Guyana.

But sex between men is also a significant factor in several national epidemics. As many as one in eight (12 per cent) reported HIV infections in the region occurred through unprotected sex between men, according to the Caribbean Commission on Health and Development. Unprotected sex between men is the main mode of HIV transmission in Cuba, where men account for more than 80 per cent of all reported HIV cases and in Dominica, where almost three quarters (71 per cent of the 319 HIV infections reported to date) have been reported.  A recent study in Trinidad and Tobago also found HIV prevalence of 20 per cent among men who have sex with men. It was also reported that 25 per cent of those also said they regularly had sex with women as well.

However, the report pointed out, high degrees of stigmatisation and discrimination
against men who have sex with men and female sex workers make it difficult to assess the extent to which HIV might be circulating among those population groups in some countries.

Meanwhile, young girls are also reported to be at high risk of exposure to HIV, especially due to the practice of maintaining relationships with older men, who, by virtue of their age, are more likely to have acquired HIV.

But the good news is that most countries in the region showed declines or stabilization of HIV prevalence, primarily in urban areas, whereas changes in semi-urban and rural areas have been slight.

Still, the report said that inadequate surveillance systems in several countries are making it difficult to gauge recent trends in their epidemics.

Latest figures show there are 230,000 Caribbean residents living across the region with HIV/AIDS, the highest HIV prevalence in the Americas. Of that number, 20,000 became infected with the disease last year alone even as 14,000 died from the deadly virus. With some 170 000 people living with HIV, Haiti bears the largest HIV burden in the Caribbean. Cuba’s epidemic remains the smallest in the region, with national adult HIV prevalence estimated at under 0.1 per cent. AIDS is the leading cause of death in the Caribbean, in the 25 to 44 age group. (CaribWorldNews)