HOW ARE WE COMBATING HIV/AIDS IN OUR REGION?
From the public promotion and attention the spread of HIV/AIDS is given in Dominica one would not ever believe this worldwide pandemic is a problem here. Yet we are a country of declining population, having totaled 69,625 and averaged annual population growth of -0.21, reports the 2001 Census. The decline is said to be as a result of migration and low birth rates.
Juxtapose the above picture next to one of an island where the reported cumulative HIV cases [that is dead and alive] rose by 576% between 1990 and 2002. Meaning that, in 1990 and 2002 the authorities recorded 38 and 257 cumulative cases respectively. But according to health statisticians, a true picture is obtained when the reported number of cases is multiplied by 10. So approximately 2570 Dominicans have been infected with the virus! Or there is one (1) reported HIV case per 27 Dominicans!
What is most alarming is that CAREC indicates that the fastest growing infections are among the 15-24 year olds. In this age group the number of new cases has grown steadily over the last six years, with women accounting for all the new cases. HIV prevalence among pregnant women 15-24 years also grew in the same period.
As it regards protection against the disease and condom use, primitive data show that condom sales have increased islandwide. Yet the highest demanded contraceptive by Dominican women is the injection. Female condoms purchase appeared to have spiked in 1999 to coincide with an aggressive HIV/AIDS campaign by the health authorities here but by 2001 comdom demand by Dominican women declined to below 1998 levels.
So far only two children between the ages of 10 and 14 have been recorded to be orphaned due to AIDS. Though the Government offers treatment for the prevention of mother to child transmission and free ART and testing for pregnant women, they are not well publicized. Maybe it is because there are only very limited supplies or services available.
The National HIV/AIDS Program Unit has been waiting for their allotment of funds from a regional machinery for almost two years! They are held up by some participating countries that have not fully complied with all the requisite requirements for drawdown of funds! As a result Dominica's HIV/AIDS education campaigns and other prevention and treatment activities have been severely stymied; due to no fault of their own!
But I say the country's leadership must take this matter in hand, funds or no funds. They requested and were given the responsibility of protecting Dominica's future. So they are bound by the contract of the cast vote to do whatever it takes to save the next generation of Dominicans from annihilation. What is vexing is that no alarm bells have been sounded! When indeed it is the most productive and reproductive sections of the Dominican population who are the newest victims of the pandemic. Nobody seems to notice!
Small actions that would significantly impact and promote the use of condoms among sexually active young women more so and the sharing of information should be paramount now. Our leadership must know by now that it does not require truck loads of money to do that. All they must do is endorse and give these activities their full support.
As far as I am concerned IT IS NOW OR NEVER! Tomorrow is already too late....