According to data from the UNAIDS organization and the CDC, 34-million people are living with HIV/AIDs globally. In the United States, a disproportionate number of African Americans carry the unfortunate distinction of having the most-infected population.
In the Caribbean, HIV numbers among adults account for 1 percent of the entire population – small in comparison to numbers found in the global scheme but significant enough to distinguish it as the second-highest region with HIV/AIDS outside of sub-Saharan Africa.
According to UNAIDS, the highest number of persons living with HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean was captured on the island of Hispaniola, with 120,000 known cases in Haiti and 62,000 reported in the Dominican Republic.
UNAIDS asserts that much of the spread of disease in the region has been transmitted as a result of unprotected prostitution between men and women, although men having sex with men has also contributed to the numbers.
American anthropologist and Harvard Medical School professor Paul Farmer has written several works associated with HIV/AIDS, including the popular “AIDS and Accusation: Haiti and the Geography of Blame.” As one of the first doctors to discover the earliest cases of AIDS in Haiti, Farmer was privy to a perspective that the outside world wasn’t.
While Haiti was blamed for the AIDS epidemic, Farmer would learn firsthand that much of Haiti’s infamy was overstated. Due to Farmer’s hands-on exposure and academic expertise, he was able to conclude that Haiti’s pandemic flourished as a result of poverty, globalization, illness, and the country’s dependency on industry outside its reach. Farmer further expounds on this theory in another book, entitled “Infections and Inequalities: The Modern Plagues.”
With females living with HIV/AIDS making up 59 percent of the cases in Belize, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago, HIV numbers continue to be the highest between men who have sex with men. The spike in female numbers point to sex workers and unprotected sex, which is added to the number of new infections.
Drug use in Jamaica and a spike of numbers of infected prisoners, especially in St. Lucia and Guyana, also play their part in bumping up the number of cases. The UNAIDS report supports Farmer’s theories about poverty being linked to citizens receiving the necessary care in the prevention of spreading HIV/AIDS. In poorer regions in Jamaica, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic, AIDS numbers tended to trend higher.
In order to assist in the prevention and care of persons living with HIV/AIDS, $1.3 billion has been donated to the cause. Global donors, such as the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the U.S.-sponsored President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has provided support to the region and its countries. While funds and donations have poured in, UNAIDS still states that not enough is being spent on prevention, although numbers have shown nominal improvement.
The 2010 Haiti earthquake disaster has also compounded HIV/AIDS problem, as workers have had to contend with the country’s 1.3-million misplaced citizens and the social ills that residents who lived in temporary camps faced. Rape, sexual assault, and unprotected sex were issues that plagued the campsites, and a lack of law enforcement and other lacking safeguards left many vulnerable.
Organizations and countries looking to eliminate the pandemic are focusing their efforts on prevention, obtaining adequate funding, at-risk populations, bridging gaps of spread between populations, and reaching out via sound political leadership. Smaller organizations are formulating their own response to the epidemic, with group Code Red, taking a feminist stand by focusing on sex work, sexual education, and health.
While the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the fight against the disease seemingly has a primary focus on Africa and the United States, those who are concerned with the plight of the Caribbean nations dealing with this crisis need to get more involved. It is apparent that the island paradises that are enjoyed by foreign visitors the world over should get more than what they’ve been presented with thus far.