Health Minister gets HIV/AIDS figures wrong?

Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh appears to be getting his figures wrong regarding the number of Persons Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHAs) in Trinidad and Tobago.

Media reports indicated the Minister saying earlier today that there are 10,000 PLWHAs in the country. However the United Nations reports drastically higher numbers. In a 2014 UNAIDS Global AIDS Response Trinidad and Tobago Country Progress Report, the UN says that in 2012 the HIV prevalence rate was 1.5% indicating that T&T is categorised as having a generalised epidemic. Since the start of the epidemic in 1983 to December 2012, the UN says there were 22,085 persons (estimated) diagnosed with HIV. During 2011- 2012, there was an increase in newly diagnosed HIV cases from 1077 in 2011 to 1284 in 2012, an increase in AIDS cases from 33 in 2011 to 47 in 2012, and an increase in AIDS related deaths from 42 in 2011 to 55 in 2012. It also said that said the number of persons counselled and tested increased from 52,393 in 2011 to 55,221 in 2012 but declined to 53,186 in 2013.

The main mode of transmission is through sexual contact and in 2012, males accounted for 49.5% of new HIV cases while females accounted for 43.5% and 7% were of unknown sex.

In the same year the 30-44 age group accounted for majority of new HIV cases (35.5%) followed by the under 30 age group (32.8%) and the 45 and older age group(23.1%) based on HIV/AIDS Morbidity and Mortality reports. However, 8.6% were of unknown age. These statistics represent data from the public health sector and some of the private labs that comply with reporting to the Trinidad Public Health Laboratory.

During 2012-2013, the number of HIV counselling and testing sites increased from 43 to 57 HIV counselling and testing sites with one new site in Tobago. Available data on HIV counselling and testing sites represent public sector, civil society, and academia but does not include the private sector.

The figures the media reported the Health Minister as saying is part of what Human and Social Development consultant Nadine Lewis-Agard says is lacking in the country: proper data. The Prime Minister also appears to agree given that a statement from the Office of the Prime Minister quoted Dr Keith Rowley as saying there is need for proper data in the monitoring and evaluation of the disease.

He indicated that there was a great need to allocate financial resources to deal with the situation as well.  Dr Rowley promised that HIV/AIDS be placed once again on the front burner, as a national issue stating that the National Aids Coordinating Committee will be returning under the Office of the Prime Minister.

Speaking to the media, Lewis-Agard said the considerable lack of statistical information from the Central Statistical Office (CSO) continues to hide the true state of the country’s infection numbers. Not only this, she said, but the data is not present for how many are accessing treatment through Anti-Retroviral Therapy.

Lewis-Agard, like representatives of the HIV arm of the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA), as well as other stakeholders, have long advocated the need for proper sex education in schools across the country. Something they have all lamented continues to be replaced with “Health and Family Life Education.”

While there is need- the experts say, for Sex Education in schools, the need goes further to the wider population for Persons Living With HIV/AIDS (PLWHAs). 

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