|AIDS is the number one cause of death for African-American adults ages 25-44. And its impact on the black population worldwide has reached catastrophic proportions.
Reports confirm that Sub-Saharan Africa is the hardest hit in the world, with the greatest concentration of HIV/AIDS. Of particular note is South Africa. Though one of Africa's wealthiest nations, the country has the world's highest rate of infection with HIV. It is projected that within the next five-10 years, 3.5 million South Africans will die of AIDS.
Outside of Sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean has some of the worst HIV epidemics researchers note. In Guyana they found that 3.2% of blood donors were HIV positive while a staggering 46% of urban sex workers were infected. In a 1996 study in Haiti some 6% of pregnant women tested positive for the virus. As a consequence families are being decimated and children are some of HIV/AIDS' innocent victims. And the numbers are significant. By the end of 1999, the Caribbean ranked third with 83,000 estimated children, 14 years old and younger, orphaned by AIDS. Sub-Saharan Africa peaked at over 10.7 million children followed by Latin America with 100,000.
In Trinidad and Tobago, Dr. Rawle Edwards, the Chief Medical Officer and chairman of the HIV Vaccine Ethics Committee, recently reported that while they have over 8000 people on their books who are known to be living with HIV, trends suggest that some 9,000 more are actually living with the disease and don't know it. They are particularly concerned about the high incidence of HIV/AIDS among females 15 to 23 year old.
These sobering facts were part of the motivation for the formation of the Friends of Tobago AIDS Society first in Pembroke Pines, Fla., and now in the DC metropolitan area. Nationals of Trinidad and Tobago recognized the need to assist the Tobago AIDS Society; a non governmental organization formed in 1996 in their island homeland, in their efforts to deal with the problems associated with HIV/AIDS. The group here is 10 members strong who coordinate fundraising and/or informational activities in an effort to help provide financial and educational resources to the Tobago AIDS Society specifically, and the Caribbean community in general, said Sharon Baynes. "We took up the challenge here to not just focus on Trinidad and Tobago but the whole Caribbean because we realized that we have a responsibility to educate the Caribbean community about just how much the whole region is being affected by AIDS," she told Metro Connection.
The group's first major activity is the Caribbean Gospel Fest 2000 scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 9, at 7:30 p.m. at National Wesleyan Church (6324 Riggs Road, Hyattsville, MD). The event will feature the area's own "D Jesus Man Himself," Rev. Terry Baynes, originally from Tobago and the Michigan-based Trinidadian gospel group LivinVersion Band. Tickets are $15, $20 at the door and $5 for children under 12. For more information about the Friends of the Tobago AIDS Society or the Caribbean Gospel Fest 2000 call 301-704-4201.