AIDS apathy a growing concern

Six new HIV cases in Cayman this year

The good news is HIV and early-stage AIDS is no longer likely to kill you. The bad news is this is leading young people to no longer take steps needed to avoid contracting the virus, a small group who met in downtown George Town on World AIDS Day heard. 

AIDs-related deaths are at their lowest since they peaked in 2005 – down 21 per cent – according to UNAIDS and new HIV infections are down 30 to 50 per cent compared with what they would have been if universal access to treatment had not been available to HIV sufferers worldwide, Cayman Islands Health Minister Mark Scotland said. 

Mr. Scotland said while the number of new HIV cases were down worldwide, local statistics showed “we still have a lot to do in the Cayman Islands”. 

Since the Cayman Islands recorded its first case of HIV in 1985, there had been a steady rate of new infections, the minister said, adding since 2006, 32 new cases had been reported.  

Six new cases emerged this year. There are 100 known HIV and AIDS patients in the Cayman Islands. 

Leader of the Opposition Alden McLaughlin, who also spoke at the sunset event on World AIDS Day on Thursday, 1 December, said he was disappointed by the small number of people who showed up. He said it was indicative of the need for more education locally about the disease. 

“As AIDS has become viewed as less and less of a death sentence, it seems that throughout society, particularly among young people that I talk to, people are quite blasé about the whole situation and not really worrying about contracting HIV and the consequent development into AIDS,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “It is more and more important as more and more progress is made on treatment that those involved in the work of education, in the kind of work the Cayman AIDS Foundation is doing, and to have more of these kinds of occasions to promote the importance of protecting yourself from contracting this terrible disease.” 

The Cayman AIDS Foundation organised the event around the Heroes Square fountain, which was decked out in candles and a giant red ribbon, which is the international symbol of the fight against AIDS. 

Patron of the Cayman AIDS Foundation and president of the University College of the Cayman Islands Roy Bodden urged the people at the gathering to bring more people with them next year. 

He said he was particularly worried about teenagers practising “reckless, dangerous and unprotected sex” and said educating young people was central to combatting the spread of HIV. 

“I know that it is easy for people to become apathetic and smug and maybe even a little reckless because now HIV is not necessarily a death sentence and even AIDS in the early stages is not necessarily a death sentence, but that is no reason for us to relax our efforts and act irresponsibly,” Mr. Bodden said. 

The speakers acknowledged that stigma and discrimination toward people with HIV and AIDS was still present in Cayman and was a barrier to people speaking up about the disease, and also served to prevent some from getting tested. 

Mr. Scotland said local AIDS activists feared the number of cases of HIV in Cayman could be far higher, because people are not getting tested because “the fear of discrimination is a very strong force”. 

“If people feel they will be labelled or socially ostracised, chances are they will not get tested or they will not seek the treatment they need,” he said. 

The health minister said government had set up a HIV and AIDS multi-sectoral committee to come up with a sustainable response through public partnership and review the national AIDS policy. 

Last week, free HIV screenings were available at public health clinic and due to demand, testing continued this week, until Thursday, 8 December, from 9am to 2pm at the General Practice Clinic of the Cayman Islands Hospital, West Bay and Bodden Town District Health Centres and Faith Hospital in Cayman Brac.  

Free screenings will also be available at East End District Health Centre on Thursday, 8 December. On Little Cayman, tests will be done at the health centre with prior arrangement only by calling 948-0072.  

 

For further information contact the Public Health Department on 244-2648. 

red ribbon world AIDS day cayman

The fountain at Heroes Square was decked out with a giant red ribbon, the worldwide symbol of the fight against AIDS. – PHOTO: NORMA CONNOLLY

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