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undermines fight against HIV and AIDS in Caribbean

undermines fight against HIV and AIDS in Caribbean

Widespread ignorance about HIV and AIDS is undermining efforts to fight the spread of the virus in the Caribbean, which has the second-highest rate of infection after sub-Saharan Africa, health officials said last Sunday. Discrimination by employers and others is so pervasive that infected people often delay seeking treatment for the virus, which is still largely perceived as a ''gay disease'' by many in the region, said officials at a one-day Caribbean Summit on HIV/AIDS in St. Croix.

''It's going to be a political challenge because, unfortunately, we live in a society that is very homophobic,'' said Douglas Slater, health minister for St. Vincent and the Grenadines. ''It's something we are going to have to overcome.''

Lingering social stigma associated with the disease keeps many from receiving treatment, meaning AIDS cases in the region are likely underreported, said Bruce Smail, director of a patients' advocacy group in the Virgin Islands. ''They won't even come into the office because people know what we do. They will give up the possibility of treatment just not to be seen,'' Smail said.

The 15-member Caribbean Community, known as Caricom, has not secured enough international funding for prevention and treatment, said U.S. congressman Donald M. Payne, a Democrat from New Jersey who serves as cochair of the Congressional Caribbean Caucus. (AP)

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