When discussing the HIV/AIDS crisis, I find that the conversation usually focuses on two locations, The United States and Africa. I live in the U.S., so of course I’m most concerned with what is going on in my own backyard. Since the continent of Africa has the highest occurrence of HIV/AIDS in the world — fully two-thirds of all people in the world who are infected with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa* — I am very concerned about the fight against new HIV and AIDS there also.
But there is another area of the world that needs to enter the conversation — The Caribbean**. As a woman of Guyanese decent (big up all GT massive an’ crew! Sorry, I couldn’t help myself ☺), I’m concerned about the impact that the HIV/AIDS epidemic is having in the Caribbean.
Before linking up with GET DOWN, I had no idea as to what really was going on in the Caribbean community related to HIV/AIDS. I assumed that, like most places in the world, the Caribbean population must suffer with the infection and disease as well but I was shocked to learn that after sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean has the highest rate of HIV prevalence than any other area of the world. In 2008, an estimated 20,000 Caribbean people were infected with HIV and approximately 12,000 died of AIDS***.
Not only are those living in the Caribbean disproportionately affected, but the Caribbean population here in the States is heavily affected as well. According to the NYC Dept of Health and Mental Hygiene 2007 report, Caribbean immigrants make up roughly 25% of the New York City population and of the 23% of foreign-born New Yorkers who are newly diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, 50% of those are from the Caribbean. I was floored by this number. Digging deeper I found that between 2001 – 2006 there were 5,804 new HIV diagnoses in New York City with the majority of those diagnoses being individuals who were born in the Caribbean. As reported to the NYC Dept of Health and Mental Hygiene Sept 2005, the largest number of these diagnoses, 32%, can be found in the East Flatbush/Flatbush section of Brooklyn, a neighborhood with a high concentration of Caribbean immigrants.
Faced with these statistics the questions on my mind are (a) Why is the rate of HIV/AIDS so high among the Caribbean and Caribbean-American community? and (b) What can we do to turn the tide?
Based on data reported to the NYC Dept of Health and Mental Hygiene 2007, heterosexual sex is the main mode of transmission with the commercial sex trade playing a large role in some areas. Men who have sex with men, but who do not indentify as “homosexual” (MSM) are also a factor in the spread of the disease. Given the culturally ingrained homophobia that exists throughout the region, it is not known how much this mode of transmission truly contributes to the spread of HIV/AIDS. It is estimated that MSM sex accounts for 12% of infections, but due to denial and under-reporting it is thought that the actual rate is, in reality, much higher✜.
Unprotected sex combined with the poor public infrastructure, poverty, gender inequalities and limited resources that many Caribbean countries endure make for an environment that only exacerbates the spread of the disease.
Despite these obstacles there are steps we can take to help slow the rate of infection among the Caribbean and Caribbean-American communities:
1. Increased sexual health education.
2. Increased treatment, care and support of those living with HIV/AIDS.
3. Increased education on ways to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Therefore I urge all Caribbeans and Caribbean-Americans to come out and support the 2010 National Caribbean-American HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on June 8th in your city. Visit http://www.caribbeanhealthaidsday.com/dsp/event/dsp_events.php to find out what events are happening near you.
And for those located in New York City, be sure to come out for the 10th Annual AIDS Walk Caribbean on June 20th. Visit http://www.aidswalkcaribbean.com/ to register.
It is only through increased education and awareness that we can begin to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS in our community. I encourage you to educate yourself and others as to the reality of the situation and commit yourself to doing your part to help change it.
For more information please visit:
PAN CARIBBEAN PARTNERSHIP AGAINST HIV/AIDS
THE HAITIAN CENTERS COUNCIL, INC.
CARIBBEAN WOMEN’S HEALTH ASSOCIATION
THE BODY’S INT’L HIV/AIDS ORGANIZATIONS http://www.thebody.com/index/hotlines/internat.html#caribbean
THE AUDRE LORDE PROJECT
*UNAIDS (2008) 'Report on the global AIDS epidemic'
**CariCom Member profiles. The Caribbean includes islands in the Caribbean
Sea and the mainland countries of Belize, Guyana and Suriname.
***UNAIDS 2009 AIDS epidemic update
✜UNAIDS/WHO 2008 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic, July 2008 and
2009 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic 2009
✜UNAIDS (2008) 'Report on the global AIDS epidemic'