A $320,000 government bail-out will put an end to an almost month-long shortage of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) medication in New Providence Health Minister Dr. Duane Sands revealed Tuesday.
According to Dr. Sands, the government has spent approximately $320,000 on a HIV drugs and testing supplies. The massive shipment comes after the government revealed that several public healthcare facilities in New Providence ran out of HIV medication mid-March.
Dr. Sands blamed strained finances at the Public Hospitals Authority (PHA) for the shortage.
PHA was unable to meet financial obligations to international HIV drug suppliers and subsequently forced the government’s hand to provide emergency funding to assist.
“We are expecting that – the definitive order of $260,000 worth of HIV medication, the agents to test for CD4 levels and viral loads,” said Dr. Sands.
“Overall spending totaled somewhere around $320, 000 outlay in order to maintain capacity to treat and test for HIV.”
He said the government realizes that it will take additional finances and manpower to tackle the fight against HIV/ Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) in The Bahamas.
“With our new 90/90/90 initiative, there will be an escalated demand for HIV medication. There will also be an escalating demand for testing ability, lab agents and equipment. So, we realize that the budget which might have applied last year, will not be sufficient for this year,” noted Dr. Sands.
“We would like to get to the point where 90 per cent of people who are HIV positive are on therapy and 90 per cent of them have effective viral suppression. We believe we are currently at 60 per cent in terms of suppression for those who are on therapy.
“If we are going to get to the point where we convert HIV to the equivalent of a chronic disease and get to the point where HIV can be eradicated in the Bahamas, then we know that we have to increase our efforts and that means much more investment by the government and the people of The Bahamas.”
Dr. Sands said the government spends millions annually in the fight against HIV/AIDS and, while the journey to zero infections is a long and tedious one, there are minor victories to celebrate along the way.
Recent statistics compiled by the Ministry of Health indicate that the number of persons living with HIV/AIDS has decreased from three per cent to two per cent – a decrease, which Dr. Sands said is a huge step in the right direction.
“We are fortunate to say that in the Bahamas the percentage of people who are HIV positive has come down from three to two per cent,” shared Dr. Sands.
However, he admitted that when the overall number is dissected, the government realizes that there is more work to be done to decrease the amount of new infections among Bahamian youth as well as men who have sex with men (MSM’s).
“When we break it down into different categories, men who have sex with men show a higher percentage,” he said.
“Unfortunately, we have also not made the inroads we would like to make as it relates to the percentage of young people becoming infected. We are still seeing far too many young people becoming HIV positive.”
The United Nations’ (UN) 2016 AIDS statistics revealed that nearly 8,100 Bahamians, aged 15 and higher, were living with the HIV/AIDS virus. Some 3,400 were said to be females while males accounted for the majority at 4,700.
The stats also revealed that there were approximately 3,035 men who had been categorized as MSMs with 19.6 per cent of that number were living with HIV and 91 per cent of that number having knowledge of their infection.