UNITED NATIONS, (CMC):
A NEW report issued on the eve of a major United Nations conference on HIV/AIDS says the pandemic is the leading cause of death in the Caribbean.
The UNAIDS report said that 330,000 people were living with the HIV virus in the Caribbean, 22,000 of whom were children younger than 15 years.
It said that nearly 37,000 persons became infected with HIV in 2005, and that women comprise 51 per cent of adults living with the virus.
"The Caribbean's epidemics - and countries' AIDS responses - vary considerably in extent and intensity," the report said.
The report said that young Haitians, for instance, were becoming sexually active at earlier ages, noting also that the average age at first sex for men and women declined by about one year between 1994 and 2000.
CONDOM USE IN HAITI
Condom use among 15-24-year-olds has become less frequent, decreased in urban parts of Haiti, and have remained stable in neighbouring Dominican Republic, the report said, noting that expanded access to antiretroviral treatment in the Bahamas and Barbados appears to be reducing AIDS deaths.
But such progress, the report pointed out, has not been enough to undo the Caribbean's status as the second-most affected region in the world.
The report said AIDS is the leading cause of death among adults (15-44 years), claiming an estimated 27,000 lives in 2005. Overall, less than one in four, or 23 per cent, of persons in need of antiretroviral therapy was receiving it in 2005.
The report said that national adult HIV prevalence exceeds two per cent in Trinidad and Tobago, and three per cent in the Bahamas and Haiti; while in Cuba, it is 0.1 per cent.
INADEQUATE HIV SURVEILLANCE
"Unfortunately, inadequate HIV surveillance still blurs the picture of recent epidemiological trends in many Caribbean countries, and especially in rural areas," the report said.
"As in many other parts of the world, the region's epidemics occur in a context of deep impoverishment and gender inequalities," it added.
"Unprotected heterosexual intercourse is the main mode of HIV transmission," it noted.
Overall, with a few exceptions, the Caribbean's epidemics have stayed relatively stable in recent years, the report said, stating that Haiti is home to more people living with HIV than any other country in the region: 190,000.