A new, aggressive strain of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) was recently detected in Cuba by scientists and public health officials throughout the Caribbean are expressing their concerns.
The University of Leuven (Belgium), research indicates that this new strain called CRF19CPX, causes HIV patients to mutate to the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) faster – much more faster than previous epidemic strains. It said the transition is so fast that the patient may not even be aware of the infection.
Researcher Anne Mieke Vandamme who published the findings told The Independent that there are other fast-acting variants of HIV but the Cuban strain is the first in which all observed patients infected with a particular strain of HIV progress to AIDS at the accelerated rate.
According to an article by The Cayman Reporter, more than 60 epidemic strains of the HIV-1 virus presently exist.
St. Lucia’s senior medical officer for Infectious Diseases, Dr Alisha Eugene said the new strain quickens the pace for AIDS.
“It can make you move from a state of being HIV negative, you get infected you can get full blown AIDS in less than three years, which is a bit different from the other strains we have in that it would take about 10 years to move from one phase to the next,” said Eugene.
Eugene added that though funding for HIV has reduced globally, the Ministry of Health, Wellness, Human Services and Gender Relations continues to keep the citizens informed of the developments in HIV/AIDS.
In Guyana, National Aids Program Secretariat (NAPS) noted there has been a reduction in the HIV/AIDS rate and a decrease in the number of persons being tested there. Research also indicated that there has been a decrease in the rate of death from the disease.
“The World Health Organization (WHO) and more importantly the Caribbean medical union need to first acknowledge that our initial approach in tackling this frightening phenomenon has failed and urgent revision of the promotional and prevention strategies is needed, as it is long overdue,” said Guyanese doctor Allan Outridge.
Meanwhile, Health officials in Dominica are urging nationals to be aware of the virus.
The head of the HIV/AIDS Coordinating Unit, Julie Frampton warned citizens to make the right choices regarding their sexual and reproductive health in light of the new report on the HIV virus.
“Of course we are concerned from an economic standpoint; do we have the money to treat persons with new strains of HIV, can the treatment we have now work,” said Frampton, noting that the new strain of the virus sends a message that “you have to be responsible for your sexual and reproductive health; nobody can do that for you, always use a condom all the time, every time, on time.”
In 2014, Dominica recorded 19 new HIV cases.
Additionally, Barbados Ministry of Health said it has begun discussions with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) regarding the new discovery and is conducting a review of the available literature.
WHO reported that there are currently 35 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS. The Caribbean region is reported as having the second highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the world, behind Sub Saharan Africa.