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Saturday, January 21, 2006 

21st January
More AIDS Patients Shunning Treatment
Royanne Forbes-Darville

A disturbing trend is developing among HIV/AIDS patients in The Bahamas, health officials said yesterday.

Approximately 21 Bahamians infected with the HIV/AIDS virus died abruptly last October, the largest number of persons to die of the disease in any one month. This, according to officials, is part of a disturbing trend of patients who are not seeking treatment or follow-up care.

Dr. Perry Gomez, director of the national AIDS programme, told The Bahama Journal that if these individuals were on the anti-retroviral drug their lives could have been prolonged.

"That is the largest number of persons to die in any one month [of HIV/AIDS in The Bahamas]," Dr. Gomez said yesterday during the AIDS Secretariat’s annual breakfast at Addington House, Sands Road
"They were all people who had never been on treatment and so it really confirms and validates the need for the ‘know your status’ campaign [this year’s theme chosen by The HIV/AIDS Secretariat] because people wait too late and then they come in, crash and die."

Dr. Gomez said that it was disheartening when persons living with HIV/AIDS decide not to seek treatment when the drugs are available, and most importantly free.

"Part of that is due to the fear of stigma and discrimination," he said.

"So we have to continue to fight stigma and discrimination as we move forward," Dr. Gomez added. "If we can get more people with AIDS to educate the public and speak out, that would be good; however, while we do get [infected persons] to speak privately, very few people in small communities are willing to go public because most are ashamed to say ‘I have HIV/AIDS’."

In 2002, around 300 people were a part of the country’s anti-retroviral programme.
AIDS patients who once paid around $14,000 per year for the anti-retrovirals, now pay a tenth of that cost, thanks to slashed rates.

According to officials, government spends around $6 million every year to care for AIDS patients.

There are nearly 2 million people living with the disease in this region.
Director of the HIV/AIDS Centre, Nurse Rosa Mae Bain, explained it is crucial that HIV/AIDS patients take their medication.

"We have had many successes in our country," Nurse Bain said.

"We have seen a decline in new cases in HIV infection…a decline in the number of persons being admitted to hospital and this is why we are starting the mass media campaign on getting to ‘know your status’."

According to Nurse Bain, the campaign aims to encourage persons who are HIV positive to attend the hospital and have their "CD4 count and their viral load" checked so that they can begin treatment.

"But what we have started to see is an increase in deaths …and a significant number of these are in young people who knew they were HIV infected but who did not come in for treatment or follow-up care," she said.

The Bahama Journal - Bahamas News Online EditionCopyright Jones Communications Ltd. ©2005 - Nassau, Bahamas.

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