Real drop in Guyana’s mother-to-child HIV infection

≈Guyana health officials have made a stunning claim that their aggressive approach to eradicate mother to child transmission of HIV will result in a zero count by the year 2015.

In the year 2000, approximately 800 women gave birth to babies infected with HIV. However, the tide was turned last year when the number with infants affected with the virus decreased dramatically.

Minister of Agriculture, Leslie Ramsammy announced these findings during a presentation at the recently concluded International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC, stating that 12 years ago, almost 200 babies were born with HIV, but in 2011, only six infants were born with the virus.

The decrease, he said, was due to overall testing and treatment with antiretroviral medicines, which dramatically decreased the chances of transmittals, resulting in the low death rate.

“Our approach is to fighting the HIV and AIDS epidemic,” Dr. Ramsammy said, “is to put in place an initiative to educate the masses, and policies and strategies for reducing and eliminating the stigma and discrimination.”

Director of the National AIDS Program Secretariat, Dr. Shantie Singh, who was a part of the Guyana delegation in Washington, said in an exclusive interview with Caribbean Life said that Guyana has made “tremendous strides in the social and cultural norms, and progress in testing over 95 percent of the Guyanese population, including promiscuous persons and mothers who were at risk of transmitting the virus to their children.”

“We can safely say that Guyana is the first country in the Caribbean that has been working from the onset to elimiminate mother-to-child transmission,” Dr. Singh said, adding that at the end of last year, 100,000 citizens were tested — a significant number, she said, considering Guyana’s population of 800,000. Those tested were homosexuals, female commercial sex workers, men having sex with men and high-risk groups. “This is a remarkable achievement,” she added.

The number of people coming forward has increased, and statistics show that this is the reason for the increased survival rate, Singh said.

A question was raised about why school-age children are not being provided with condoms. Singh said it was a cultural matter in the Caribbean because of the age-of-consent issue and added that the government of Guyana has instituted a health and family life program in high schools, in response to the AIDS epidemic. This program, she added, gets additional support from non-governmental oganizations (NGOs) which send workers into schools to talk about factors that influence the high risk of HIV/AIDS.

“Like other Caribbean countries, we have been addressing the topic of condoms in school,” Dr. Singh said.

More from Around NYC