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Recently released statistics from the Ministry of Health suggests there are more cases of men who have sex with both men and women spreading the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) than is known.
Principal Officer of the HIV Unit of the Ministry of Health and senior Medical Officer, Dr. Cleophas d’Auvergue told Saint Lucia News Online in a recent interview that the data indicates more men are becoming infected with HIV by indiscriminate sexual behaviours than women at a “disproportionate rate.”
He said last year the island had 75 percent of men compared to 25 percent of women infected with HIV. That trend, he said, has been persistent over the past five years.
“So they say one thing, but in reality it’s different and perhaps we have more (male) bisexuals who are actually transmitting the virus … They are partners with both men and women,” he added.
Dr d’Auvergue explained that statistics show 30-50 percent of people under HIV care are men, and out of that, four percent admitted to having sex with men and women.
“So you have transmission in pockets. Perhaps that is why more men are more at risk of being co-infected with both syphilis and gonorrhea too,” the HIV specialist noted.
MSMs and commercial sex workers are considered high risk groups, and they are more prone to contracting and spreading the virus. Social economic factors were also cited, as reasons for the spread of the infection here.
“It’s not like we have not been educating them; the message is out there but somehow people are not getting it and they feel saturated with it,” Dr d’Auvergue stated.
Dr d’Auvergue, who is also the principal investigator for the U.S funded PEPFAR Programme here, said the HIV Unit plans to change its strategies toward addressing the spread of HIV. Populations most at risk of contracting the virus and those infected will be targeted first.
“We want to focus on targeted education …We are trying to put money where the problem is. The first part is to find the problem and directing resources.” The HIV unit also plans to launch a mapping analysis, to assist with its plan. Rapid testing in selected communities that have high prevalence of HIV will also be initiated. The unit also plans on promoting HIV education in the ambits on chronic care, which will draw people’s attention to the virus. The unit also plans on addressing more aggressively the issue of stigma and discrimination.
Over the past five years, the island has recorded 50 to 70 new HIV positive cases. Last year, there was an eight percent.
“People still have high risk behaviours. They still have unprotected sex; they still have multiple partners and they still have transactional sex…” Dr. d’Auvergue explained.
This, notwithstanding, the mortality rate among HIV infected people has reduced to 25 percent.