Published On: Thu, Aug 17th, 2017

Study looks into HIV virus spread in Dutch Caribbean

AIDSUTRECHT, WILLEMSTAD - The fast spreading of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the Dutch Caribbean and the factors that cause this phenomenon are the subject of a new research project of the Aids Fund Netherlands, to be carried out by scientists at the Utrecht University Medical Center (UMC Utrecht) this year.

Dr. Anne Wensing of UMC Utrecht and her colleagues will be searching the factors that played a role in the spreading of HIV in Aruba, Curaçao, St. Maarten, Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba. The collected data will be used to compile recommendations how to prevent the spreading of HIV-virus on the islands.

The Aids Funds announced the project in a press release on Wednesday. The Dutch Caribbean project is one of six that was awarded funding by the Aids Fund, made possible through the donations of its members.

The HIV epidemic has been expanding in the Dutch Caribbean, reported the Aids Fund. “The preventing of new infections is hindered by the fact that many island residents of finding out late that they have HIV and that many don’t continue treatment.” There is also a lot of migration in the Caribbean, which worsens the epidemic.

The researchers will survey groups, places, and behavior, but also look at the resistance for certain medication and analyze the reason why patients don’t continue treatment. The result will be used, with the aid of mathematic models, to develop recommendations to prevent the spreading of HIV.

“The Dutch Caribbean is not so big with fewer inhabitants than in the Netherlands, but percent wise there are more people with HIV. That is unacceptable. We should also stop the spreading of HIV in the overseas part of the Kingdom,” said Aids Fund policy assistance Marein de Jong.

The Aids Fund reported recently that according to 2015 figures, more than half of new HIV infections in Aruba involved a type that was less sensitive to the regular treatment advised by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The percentage in Aruba of infections with resistant HIV is much higher than the 10 percent that has been reported worldwide, and researchers fear that the same high figures apply to the other Dutch Caribbean islands, also due to the high migration in the region.

Based on the findings of the UMC Utrecht researchers, everyone diagnosed with HIV in Aruba is immediately checked for the presence of the resistant HIV-type before treatment is started. Regular HIV inhibitors in most cases don’t work for patients with this resistant HIV type, so different medication is necessary.

The HIV-virus multiplies and mutates at a high speed, and if the virus is not suppressed by medication, it can quickly become resistant to the applied treatment. In addition, resistant viruses are easily transmitted to others.

Researchers found that the resistant HIV remains present for a long period and in large quantities, which facilitates further spreading. “This phenomenon has led to a drastic increase in resistant HIV in Aruba,” the Aids Fund stated.

According to the Utrecht researchers, the resistant HIV-virus is also present on the neighboring island Bonaire and Curaçao and nearby South-American countries such as Venezuela and Colombia. It is unknown at this stage whether the resistant type has spread so widely as in Aruba. That is why more research is directly needed, stated the Aids Fund.

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