Barriers to HIV/AIDS testing force persons to go untested for years
More than 800 people are currently living with HIV/AIDS in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
This was revealed at the launch of World AIDS Day last Wednesday, which is being held this year under the theme, “Know your status” and local slogan, “Get up and get tested”.
But Ferosa Roache, the director of the HIV/AIDS Unit said that this figure reflects only persons who were tested and are alive. She further said there were persons who have never been tested and do not know their status.
“Although here in St Vincent and the Grenadines, HIV testing has been expanded, barriers to HIV testing still exist and people go years and years without getting tested, and only get tested after becoming ill and symptomatic and end up in the hospital with symptoms of AIDS when it’s too late. At that point, it’s extremely difficult to get back to good health, as the virus by then would have done a lot of harm to the body,” she said.
Roache said that some of the barriers that still exist include stigma and discrimination, attitudes of healthcare workers and lay testers, confidentiality and misinformation that being HIV positive is a death sentence.
According to the United Nations programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), it is estimated that close to 37 million people are living with HIV globally but 9.4 million are not aware of their status.
And in the Caribbean, it is estimated that 310,000 people are living with HIV and 77 per cent of these know their status.
The director said that the UNAIDS programme and partners aim to diagnose 90 per cent of all HIV persons, provide antiretroviral therapy for 90 per cent of those diagnosed and achieve viral suppression for 90 per cent of those treated by 2020.
“HIV testing is therefore the gateway to treatment and care and achieving the 90-90-90 targets globally and ending AIDS by 2030,” Roache said.
Odinger Louie-Warner, president of CARE SVG said that her organization provides care and support for people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS.
She explained that the illness not only affects an individual but also those around them and she felt that it was important to provide this kind of service to persons.
“I wish that HIV somewhere along the line can be seen as just a chronic illness just like diabetes or hypertension. Yes, it is sexually transmitted but I wish that at some point in our lives for HIV to be seen as a chronic illness,” Louie-Warner said.
The CARE SVG president highlighted another aspect of stigma, self-stigmatization where individuals “believe that everybody knows our business and we will point fingers and call names that are ungiven (sic) and not necessary”.
Louie-Warner, who is living with HIV, shared her own story of when she found out that she was positive.
She stressed that testing positive was not a death sentence and added that everyone needs support whether they are negative or positive.
The president further encouraged persons who have tested positive they should try to accept their status and aspire to live life to the fullest.
Carla Harry, permanent secretary (acting) in the Ministry of Health also delivered brief remarks at Wednesday’s launch.
Harry said that World AIDS Day is commemorated each year on December 1 and that it provides the opportunity for people to unite worldwide in the fight against HIV and show support for those living with the illness.
“World AIDS Day is very important to us as a ministry, Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment as it provides an opportunity for us to remind the public and ourselves that HIV has not gone away, that there is still a need to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS, fight prejudice, stigma and discrimination,” she said. “We within the Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment realize that while ending AIDS is feasible, it is difficult and will require the prioritization and achievement of universal access to early diagnosis, treatment with other prevention interventions, strong political will and sustained efficient use of limited financial resources.”
Various activities will be held locally this week to commemorate World AIDS Day. These include Massy Stores Outreach beginning today and continuing on Wednesday and Thursday.
Friday, November 30 has also been dubbed Testing Day and Wear Red Day.
The National AIDS Secretariat will also be on radio stations throughout the week, addressing testing and other issues surrounding HIV.