Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

HIV AIDS: A Predator in Paradise: Today the Caribbean Has the Highest Prevalence of HIV/AIDS outside of Sub-Saharan Africa. Some Caribbean Scholars Are Taking Steps to Educate the Academy and National Leaders about Curbing the Spread of the Disease

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

HIV AIDS: A Predator in Paradise: Today the Caribbean Has the Highest Prevalence of HIV/AIDS outside of Sub-Saharan Africa. Some Caribbean Scholars Are Taking Steps to Educate the Academy and National Leaders about Curbing the Spread of the Disease

Article excerpt

The Caribbean is legendary for the soothing rustle of blowing palm trees, sugar white beaches and breathtaking sunsets. It also is where about 2 percent of the region's adult population is living with HIV/AIDS, and the incidence rate is accelerating at a pace second only to sub-Saharan Africa. The Dominican Republic and Haiti together account for 85 percent of the total number of HIV/AIDS cases in the Caribbean.

In the two decades since the first AIDS case was diagnosed in the Caribbean, the disease has exploded into a global pandemic and catapulted the region to an unwanted place.

AIDS has become the leading cause of death for 15- to 44-year-olds in several English and non-English speaking island nations, and also is responsible for leaving an estimated 80,000 Caribbean children orphaned. Globally, 42 million people are living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, epidemiologists at the United Nations and World Health Organization announced in a report released in November. Of the 38.6 million infected adults, 19.2 million are women--slightly less than 50 percent.

But while many Caribbean governments have initiated programs to slow HIV/AIDS, few have scaled up the response to the levels necessary to turn the epidemic around, scholars say.

In the past 20 years, some government and education leaders have found it easier to prepare and protect their people from ravaging hurricanes than they have from the virus that causes AIDS, says Dr. Brendan C. Bain, a professor of community health at the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Kingston, Jamaica. During the early years, on the frontline of fighting and tracking AIDS, Bain and a handful of fellow scholars, epidemiologists and clinicians also played the waiting game when it came to enlisting significant support and resources from national leaders.

UWI, the Caribbean's leading English-speaking university system with campuses in Kingston, Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad, long has served as consultant and adviser to government leaders on important issues. Providing a response to HIV/AIDS is one of those important matters, Bain says, but he adds that for too long, UWI was silent, in denial and afraid. But the winds of change are beginning to blow, Bain says.

"UWI administrators are beginning to summon the courage to address what others of us have been working on for years"--AIDS, says Bain who late last year was named lead coordinator of the University of the West Indies HIV/AIDS Response Program (UWI HARP), a first-ever multidisciplinary initiative created to contribute to a national and regional response to the disease.

Prompted two years ago by the need to provide and accelerate the university's response to the growing epidemic, UWI HARP began to take shape. Today, the program has a presence on the university's three campuses and is slowly gaining interest from many administrators, students and the wider community.

In the absence of a regional Caribbean HIV/AIDS plan, a program such as UWI HARP is needed now more than ever, says Dr. Farley R. Cleghorn, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and an AIDS epidemiologist at the Institute of Human Virology, which is affiliated with the medical school as well as the University of Maryland Medical Center. Fledgling understaffed and under-funded non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and community-based programs in the Caribbean also should be cause for alarm because they have been on the frontline of providing care and treatment to people living with AIDS, Cleghorn adds.

"It costs money to have a response to AIDS," Cleghorn says, and few government leaders in the island nations have been willing to shoulder more than "basic medical intervention."

In August, the World Bank issued the Jamaican government a $15 million loan, which today makes up the bulk of its funding to fight HIV/AIDS, says Patricio Marquez, lead health specialist for the World Bank's Latin and Caribbean region. …

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