NASSAU, The Bahamas — Minister of Health and Wellness the Hon. Dr. Michael Darville explained that The Bahamas has made advancements in the fight against HIV, and his Ministry can report that it has shown remarkable progress in the decline of new cases of HIV.
“Newly reported HIV diagnoses decreased by 63 per cent between 2012 and 2022,” Minister Darville said during a World AIDS Day and HIV/AIDS Update Press Conference held at the Office of the Prime Minister on Friday, December 1, 2023.
“More people who are living with HIV are accessing life saving medication. The total number of persons on treatment increased nearly three-fold from 1047 in 2012 to 3017 in 2022.”
The Health Minister said this medication is free of charge to all patients within the private and public sectors.
He also noted that AIDS related deaths reported to the Ministry of Health and Wellness decreased by 41 per cent from 2012 to 2021.
“There were no cases of mother to child transmission of HIV among HIV positive women who took HIV treatment in 2022, although two babies were born to mothers who were not on treatment.”
Minister Darville said The Bahamas continues to make gains in achieving the UNAIDS global targets for 2030 to see 95 per cent of people living with HIV knowing their HIV status, 95 per cent of people living with HIV knowing their status on HIV treatment and 95 per cent of people on treatment with an undetectable HIV Viral load which is the gold standard of care.
He said In 2022 in The Bahamas:
• 93 per cent of people living with HIV knew their HIV status
• 82 per cent of people living with HIV who knew their status were on treatment
• 81 per cent of people living with HIV on treatment were virally suppressed
The Minister said, “The Bahamas has reached the moment where we are able to say that noteworthy progress is being made and that the end of AIDS is in sight.”
He explained that his Ministry has prioritized the public health response through strategies this year including:
• Integrating the HIV/ sexually transmitted infections (STI) and TB programs to strengthen the response across all three programs.
• Integrating sexual and reproductive health services including STI treatment into the public health clinics
• Generating updated epidemiological data and statistics on the HIV, STI and TB situations in country:
(and we can also report that there was a 44 per cent decrease in reported chlamydia and a 45 per cent reduction in reported gonorrhoea cases between 2012 and 2021).
• Updated STI and viral hepatitis guidelines have been produced and launched with copies to be disseminated to the public health clinics nationwide.
• Approximately 150 healthcare workers from the archipelago were trained in the updated guidelines.
• The Prevention Unit has distributed more than 101,000 free condoms in outreach events during the year.
• 30 community outreach events that included free HIV testing and counseling were conducted nationwide and as a result more than 1500 persons now know their HIV status.
• Through the Focus on Youth program, which is a collaboration with the Ministry of Health & Wellness, 4000 Primary School Students and 1500 Junior High Students received life skills training through a curriculum emphasizing HIV prevention, effective decision making and communication skills to reduce teenage pregnancy.
• The HIV Prevention Pill, HIV PrEP continues to be utilized and is available free of cost.
• An updated National HIV Testing Policy has been produced with support from PAHO.
The Health Minister also launched the newest HIV testing modality, Oral HIV Self Testing, which allows people to take an HIV test and find out their result in their own home or other private locations and allows persons to take charge of their health.
He said, “The National HIV Program in partnership with PAHO, Caribbean Med Labs, Ports International and the DMARCO Foundation played a significant role in bringing the Oral HIV Self-Test, ‘Ora-Quick’ to the point that it is available for HIV Self Testing in The Bahamas.”