As countries recognised World Aids Day yesterday, T&T is still lagging behind in many instances, particularly in bridging the gap between mother-to-child transmission.In fact, UNAids Caribbean Regional Support Team Director Dr Ernest Massiah said there is no reason why the virus should be passed on to infants as T&T has the technology, resources and medicine to prevent this.
Massiah made the statement while speaking at the "Close the Gap" seminar on the status of the HIV epidemic and response in T&T by UNAids in commemoration of World Aids Day held at UNIC Office at Bretton Hall, 16 Victoria Avenue, Port of Spain."On the elimination of mother-to-child transmission T&T has the opportunity to eliminate that in 2015. No child should actually be born in 2015 HIV positive. We have the resources, we have the technology, we have the health care workers so it is a question of the will and the reach to ensure that mothers who are HIV positive can have their children but not pass on HIV to their child."But we are also seeing a slight increase in the number of new infection but that can also be as a result of testing being increased. We must look carefully at how we can protect and empower women so that they go to clinic early, get tested, get treated and follow-up with their babies," Massiah said.
He said while the Bahamas, Jamaica and Suriname currently have transmission rates between two and five per cent, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Haiti and T&T lagged behind with more than five percent of children born to mothers living with HIV becoming infected.In 2013 T&T's rate was 6.3 per cent, Massiah added.
He added that 13 Caribbean countries were on track to be certified as having eliminated HIV transmission from mother-to-child while three were close to reaching this goal. Over the last decade, countries had successfully increased access to antiretroviral medicines during pregnancy and empowered women to make informed decisions about their health and that of their children, Massiah added.
"Before treatment was available, at least one in four babies born to HIV positive women in many Caribbean countries was infected with HIV. Today Anguilla, Barbados, Cuba, Guyana, Montserrat and St Kitts and Nevis all have shown that they have reached the elimination target of below two per cent transmission.
He described yesterday's event as a way of celebrating World Aids Day in T&T with the purpose of remembering those who had died, what was needed to be done in ensuring that those living with the virus had access to services and also to prevent more people from becoming HIV positive in the future.Massiah said people were still unwilling to get tested as they did not trust that their information would remain confidential.
Condoms in schools
A public opinion poll commissioned by UNAids in December last year showed that the majority of citizens supported giving young people access to age appropriate "sex and sexuality education" in schools as well as access to condoms and contraceptives, Massiah said.
He said respondents were asked if they generally supported the teaching of "age appropriate" sex education in schools at kindergarten, primary and secondary levels.While more than half of those polled supported such education in primary schools, there was widespread support for it in secondary schools, Massiah said.
He added that such a finding may reflect awareness about the high levels of sexual activity among teenagers.Respondents were also asked if they supported the provision of condoms and contraceptives to boys and girls in primary, secondary and tertiary institutions.
Over 60 per cent supported making these available to secondary school students, Massiah said."Addressing the lack of knowledge, sexual and reproductive health services and social protection available to young women can help reduce their vulnerability to HIV," he said.
Ending the Aids epidemic by 2030 was possible, but only by closing the gap between people who had access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services and those who were being left behind, Massiah urged.On the attitude towards homosexuals, the overall responses showed 56 per cent of citizens were either accepting or tolerant of them.
Trends in people tested for HIV in T&T between 2011 to 2013:
�2 2013–54, 308