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HIV has not gone away

HIV has not gone away

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Last Sunday, December 1, St Vincent and the Grenadines joined the international community in activities to mark World AIDS Day.

The theme of this year’s commemoration is “Communities make the difference”.

According to UNAIDS, World AIDS Day is an important opportunity to recognize the essential role that communities have played and continue to play in the AIDS response at the international, national and local levels.

In St Vincent and the Grenadines, according to figures released last week by the HIV/AIDS Unit, in 2018, 50 new HIV cases were reported; this represents a 28.2% increase over 2017. In 2017 and 2016, 39 and 36 new cases were reported respectively. Over the three-year period (2016 2017 & 2018) 125 new cases were reported. Males accounted for the majority of new infections over this period 65% n=81. Of the 150 new cases reported 2016-2018 46.4% (n=58) were within the age group 15-44 years.

The global theme chosen for this year’s commemoration has special relevance here in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

National HIV Director Sr Ferosa Roache in a recent interview, appealed to the community to be more accepting of people living with HIV/AIDS and particularly, not to discriminate against them in terms of employment opportunities. She spoke of occasions when HIV positive people were denied employment once their HIV status was revealed. It is unfortunate that in 2019, 35 years after the first case was diagnosed here, there is still so much ignorance and irrationality among us about the disease. We need to do much better.

Also of concern is the fact that despite ongoing education programmes, here in SVG, according to the HIV/AIDS unit, the number of people living with diagnosed HIV (PLWH) continues to grow, presenting challenges for prevention and clinical services.

We do not think that there is today, any adult person of sound mind and average intellect who does not know how HIV is transmitted. The challenge is how to effect behaviour change among the sexually active population. The reduction in the death threat from HIV/AIDS can lead to complacency and a tendency to take things for granted.

People who have admitted to, or have been identified as being HIV positive are increasingly being seen to be living normal lives. This can cause us to relax in our vigilance and to drop our guard.

It has also led to HIV being considered just another chronic disease, with an outlook that says that even if you contract the disease, it is “no big thing”, as treatment is available. Such an outlook is problematic.

Already, the relatively high level of teenage pregnancies reveals the vulnerability of the young population. In addition, the worrying tendency towards sexual assault and abuse of minors and women in general represents a potential threat of the spread of the disease. Such sexual abusers are unlikely to worry about protection in carrying out their despicable actions.

We congratulate all involved in the local effort to keep HIV/AIDS at bay. We must urge continued vigilance, intensified efforts, especially among those sections of the population most at risk, and more public support for the campaign.

World AIDS Day reminds us that HIV has not gone away. We must redouble our efforts to end isolation, end stigma and end HIV transmission.

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