News from the Caribbean as of


Caribbean women living with HIV – Part 2

Thursday, August 24, 2006

by Dr Sonjia Kenya

The Caribbean has not been spared the ravages of HIV/AIDS which has had a devastating impact on women in the region. The World Health Organization's 2005 update found the Caribbean with the second highest HIV prevalence in the world, after sub-Saharan Africa.

Dr Sonjia Kenya
Last year, well over 300,000 Caribbean adults and children were living with HIV, with young people contracting the disease in the greatest numbers. About half the cases are among men, but young females are becoming the demographic group at highest risk for contracting new cases of HIV.

With heterosexual intercourse as the primary route of HIV transmission, women are faced with a unique challenge. Females who are unable to negotiate condom use with their male partners are becoming HIV positive at unprecedented rates.

Furthermore, the disease is still a taboo issue with many Caribbean communities and often times HIV positive individuals are stigmatized causing shame and disregard for treatment.

Among many Caribbean men and women, the concept of risk is not personalized.  A 35 year old woman from Grenada said she contracted HIV through heterosexual contact from her partner whose HIV status was unknown.  Similarly, her HIV status was unknown.

She was uninterested in HIV education and did not believe she could contract the HIV virus.  She became HIV positive in 1997.

Fears of breached confidentiality and discrimination are very real for Caribbean women living with HIV or AIDS.  As declared by this HIV positive female from Grenada, “Sometimes I get paranoid at work.  I still have this fear that my insurance might reveal my status to my job.

 I get a little scared about things being revealed at work.  I don’t trust that HIPPA (Health Insurance Privacy Protection Act) is enforced 100%”.

In most urban communities of NYC, there are a great likelihood that you may know someone from back home. Many Caribbean people work in the healthcare industry and may be employed as the doctor or nurse while you are patient.  This awareness poses another threat of a woman disease status becoming exposed and the possibility of being ostracized.

Despite her fears, she indicated that she could live in Grenada as an HIV positive woman.  “I think I could live there but I would be concerned about medical treatment and facilities.

When comparing the standard of care there to the United States, her response was “I think it is different because here (US) we have different options.  You have a lot of people who specialize in that field.  I think it would be risky in the Caribbean because I don’t think there is anyone who specializes in that particular area”.

In our beloved region with so many cases of HIV changing the way people live and die, shouldn't there be medical specialists treating and educating people about the disease?

This article is part of an ongoing study examining the effects of HIV and AIDS in Caribbean Women.  The data was obtained through personal interviews with HIV positive Caribbean women.

For this series, Dr Kenya has collaborated with Lisa Matthews, originally from Jamaica and a current doctoral student at Columbia University in New York, which is Dr Kenya's alma mater.

The goal of the project is to publicize and educate women about quality of life issues affecting HIV positive women from the Caribbean region. Ms Matthews conducted this interview and wrote the initial draft of this article under Dr Kenya's editorial guidance.


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