Guyana has highest HIV prevalence rates in CAREC member countries

Guyana Chronicle
August 2, 2000

THE outbreak of HIV/AIDS has spread from `high risk' groups into Guyana's general population, according to recent findings of the National AIDS Programme Secretariat (NAPS).

By the end of 1999 officially reported AIDS cases from 1987 to 1999 totalled 1,602. This figure is equivalent to 200/100,000 population.

It should be noted that reported cases are estimated to be less than 40 per cent of the actual numbers.

NAPS has found that HIV prevalence rates among specific groups in Guyana are the highest of all Caribbean Epidemiological Centre (CAREC) member countries.

There was a 3.2 per cent infection rate among blood donors in 1997; 3.7 per cent among pregnant women in 1993, rising to 7.1 per cent in 1995 and 4.5 per cent in 1997 and a further 8.1 per cent among pregnant women aged 20 to 24 years in 1997.

Rate of infection was 6.6 to 21 per cent among male STI patients in 1992 to 1995 and 29 per cent in 1997. While among commercial `sex workers' there was a 25 per cent infection rate in 1989 which rose to 45 per cent in 1997.

The first case of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) was reported in 1987 and up to the end of 1995, a cumulative total of 796 cases were reported. There were 519 males and 274 females.

There has been an increase in the number of cases during the successive years - 10 cases in 1987, 62 in 1990, 105 in 1993 and 192 in 1995.

More than three quarters (76.8 per cent) of the victims were under 39 years old and 21 (2.64 per cent) of the cases were among persons under five years old, according to an earlier policy document on the disease.

The issue of mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) has been raised at NAPS and it is now being pursued. From studies conducted worldwide, it has been determined that the rate of MTCT of HIV ranges from 13 to 48 per cent.

In the Caribbean, results of studies conducted on the natural history of MTCT have shown that there is an HIV rate of 28 per cent.

NAPS reported that there are approximately 20,000 births occurring yearly in Guyana. Using the most recent estimates of HIV prevalence among antenatal women in Guyana, it is likely that there are 1,400 HIV-positive females giving birth during the year.

If a transmission rate of 28 per cent is used, there might be approximately 400 HIV-infected babies born each year.

The Ministry of Health has developed a draft Prevention Programme that is aimed at reducing MTCT of HIV by 50 per cent by the end of December 2002.

The proposed programme would reinforce the importance of educating women and their partners and young people, in general, about fostering healthy sexual lifestyles.

It would also stress the importance of strengthening reproductive health programmes, including family planning. The MTCT Prevention Programme proposes that women attending antenatal clinic be offered testing for HIV along with adequate pre and post-support counselling, according to NAPS.

The AIDS Secretariat indicated that pregnant women who are HIV-positive will be given antiretroviral therapy. This will also be provided for newborns along with replacement therapy if this is chosen by the mother.

In an effort to respond to the increasing demands for care, the National AIDS Programme Secretariat has initiated a nationwide HIV/AIDS sensitisation programme for all health care providers, starting with those in the public health sector.

Training has been offered to improve the capacity of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to provide care and support to persons living with HIV/AIDS.

A Voluntary Counselling and Testing initiative, which is available in two regions in Guyana, would be expanded to make it easier for a majority of the population to access counselling services.

The Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) has undertaken to chair the coordination of the United Nations system (UNAIDS) integrated planning in support of national responses to HIV/AIDS.

PAHO has worked closely with the Ministry of Health and key partners to promote consensus, active participation and commitment in this response, according to NAPS.

NAPS is currently planning a new `World AIDS Campaign 2000' that will focus on the involvement of men and their role in addressing the AIDS epidemic.

It is expected that the campaign will assist in bringing HIV/AIDS issues to the forefront of major national debate. Local NGOs are to play a crucial role in the implementation of the campaign.

The launching will be on Saturday, August 5 under the theme `Men can make a difference'. There will be a `Men's March' and a brief ceremony on the tarmac of the National Cultural Centre, Georgetown.

Some of the other activities planned are as follows: an HIV/AIDS Hands Campaign, a television series for persons living with HIV/AIDS, a Philip Vanderhyden walk-a-ton, the production, `Flame and the Ribbon' by the group Artists In Direct Support, an HIV/AIDS Awareness radio series and HIV/AIDS workshops and fund-raising efforts.

Meanwhile, the National AIDS Programme Secretariat has resuscitated its hotline to address public concerns in an anonymous manner.

It will operate from Monday to Friday between 8:00 hours (8 a.m.) to 20:00 hours (8 p.m.) so as to cater for callers after working hours. The telephone numbers are 02-37138 and 37139.

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