( The brother of the Chair of the PLP Branch in Eight Mile Rock introduced himself as the head of an HIV support and advocacy group in that island. It was a surprise because in these days and times, you get the impression that HIV and AIDS are the last things on the minds of this generation of Bahamians. They come along when they get a free pass with their sexuality and their freedom to express it. The public education which was omnipresent in the 1980s and 1990s seemed to have disappeared. The support agencies both governmental and non-governmental seemed to be a shadow of themselves. No one wears the HIV support symbols on their lapels anymore. The disease they say has become as manageable as diabetes. You take the medications and you can control it. You can even take medications in advance to protect you from getting it. So there is this slack atmosphere and people, the younger ones in particular don’t seem to care. That has now led to alarm bells in the health community and for the first time in his public career, the Minister of Health Duane Sands has said and done something useful, which is last week to raise the alarm about The Bahamas and the serial prevalence of HIV in our population. It turns out we are in top 20 around the world at number 17: 3.3 which makes us the highest in the region. It turns out that one in fifty people are HIV positive. It is so serious a health care problem that the Minister is saying that all of us should know our status and urges the population to get tested. We agree. The statements by the Minister appear below from The Tribune 24th May as reported by Morgan Adderley
A lot of people have been mortified by the reality of the national HIV prevalence, but that surprise or that response fails to acknowledge the fact that we didn’t get here by accident.
“I think we have to first of all understand that the level of conservatism as it relates to human sexual behaviour has not served us well.
“Two, we need to be a lot more progressive in terms of teaching our young people, and our not-so-young people, about the real risks of sex.”
“We need to make available condoms or barrier methods universally. And that requires a conversation about how far we should go.
“We should be demanding that every single adult in The Bahamas knows their HIV status. Every single one. Whether you’re married, unmarried, single, or believe that you’re in a monogamous relationship.
“I certainly think in the first instance, we ought to have a campaign that every single Bahamian who is sexually active gets tested within the next 12 months. Now, in terms of the frequency subsequently, that would vary from individual to individual. Those with multiple partners should get tested more often.
“There are many things that we acknowledge about life in The Bahamas, but we don’t acknowledge the fact that sex is the national pastime.
“We further don’t acknowledge that Bahamians engage in sex with multiple partners, that we engage in homosexual and bisexual relationships, and if we do, then we have a proclivity to stigmatise men who have sex with men and commercial sex workers.
“There is a direct correlation between the transmission of HIV and other STIs.
“There are not only blood tests but saliva tests that are quite reliable, that don’t require any discomfort on the part of the individual. And where there results can be made available within 15 or 20 minutes.
“The other problem that we have is notwithstanding the fact that we have universal availability of antiretroviral drugs, we now know that there are strains of HIV in The Bahamas that are resistant to first- and second-line therapy.
“And so, we are now having to expand the potency of medications available to Bahamians for the treatment of HIV. And if we don’t do this, then what happens is that these resistant viruses will spread throughout our community.
“We have, once again developed a level of complacency. And a part of reminding Bahamians of what is happening in our community is a call to action. That, hey, it cannot be business as usual.
“That any sexual relations with any partner ought to be predicated by responsible behaviour. Which means Know Your Status and Know the Status of the individual that you’re about to have unprotected sex with.
“Let me take this a little bit further. There are individuals involved in relationships with persons who they believe to be monogamous. But those individuals are not. They may be having sex with multiple partners. And so, everybody ought to know their status. And you ought to know the status of every person you’re sleeping with.
“In order to do well with HIV, it requires continuous engagement with a competent, capable, compassionate physician or healthcare team. It’s going to be monitoring the number of viral particles in the blood [etc]. It is only when you have control of the infection that you can lead a normal life.
“For those individuals who are not HIV positive but who are engaged in high-risk behaviour, you ought to avail yourself of prophylactic treatment.
“If you’re going to be having sex with men or sex with commercial sex workers, or sex with multiple partners.”