Suddenly all of Trinidad and Tobago is obsessed with HIV data. And all it took was a flub by a rap super star cum AIDS advocate.
In a UK Guardian Q&A, Nicki Minaj pegged her birth country’s HIV positive population at quarter million—roughly 19 percent of its populace. In fact, T&T’s adult HIV rate is 1.5 percent. Our office sent a correction to the newspaper right away. It was discreetly posted at the end of the interview on their website a few days later.
Nobody saw it of course. People were already sounding off on their Facebook pages. Reporters were scouring never-before-read AIDS reports. And politicians entered damage control mode. The Office of the Prime Minister issued a statement. The Tourism Minister promised a public relations campaign.
The ironic upshot is that one week later, most Trinidadians still don’t have a clear idea of how many of their fellow citizens are currently living with HIV. The very exact number of 22,787 has been put out. That actually represents the total number of HIV cases on record from the start of the epidemic in 1983 to 2010. To be clear: that’s all the reported HIV diagnoses T&T has had up to two years ago. It does not tell us how many people are living with the virus today and it certainly does not account for those who don’t know their status.
For this we’ll need an estimate. How do these estimates work? Simply put, experts take into account a combination of data sources including case reporting and HIV testing surveys of specific groups such as pregnant women, men who have sex men, sex workers and youth. Surveys of pregnant women in particular are good indicators for the sexually active adult population. All this data is crunched using models to come up with the estimates.
Actually, many of the smaller Caribbean islands are too small for the models used in larger countries to work. That’s why we have estimates of this kind for Guyana but not Grenada. New estimates will be available ahead of World AIDS Day on December 1st. (Stay tuned!) But for now we’d be better served by the existing number. The magic, elusive estimate of HIV positive people now living in T&T? 15,000.
And by the way, Minaj’s mistake is probably related to something she heard somewhere. 230,000 is the estimated number of HIV positive people living in the Caribbean.
Photo caption: Screenshot from of the UK Guardian Nicki Minaj interview that pompted HIV data discussions this past week.