Public Health Communications Specialist
Ministry of Health/Social Development
The Virgin Islands community is encouraged to ‘Take the Challenge to End AIDS’ as the Territory joins the world in observing World AIDS Day today, December 1.
The local observation is focused on emphasizing prevention as the key to ending the disease.
Coordinator of the Family Health Programme and Chief Nursing Officer, Ms. Jascinth Hannibal said that ending AIDS as a public health threat means that there must be no new HIV infections; no deaths from AIDS. She also said stigma and discrimination for people living with HIV must be eliminated.
“New infections have declined slightly in the Caribbean overall, however, new infections among men have not decreased, and new infections among women are still of concern. In the BVI, the rate of new infections averages seven per year and most infections are reportedly contracted through heterosexual contact,” Ms. Hannibal stated.
The Family Health Coordinator stressed three key messages that the community should practice that can tremendously reduce their chances of getting HIV. She said, “One, get tested and know your status. Two, use a condom correctly every time and three be faithful to one faithful partner.”
Ms. Hannibal also said, “While the number of new infections has decreased in the last two years, the community is encouraged not to become complacent as the reported cases of other sexually transmitted diseases or STDs such as Syphillis, Hepatitis B and Genital Herpes have increased.”
Ms. Hannibal said that the increase in those STDs indicates there is still a gap in the use of safer sexual methods including the consistent and correct use of condoms which leaves an opportunity for HIV to flourish.
Currently the Ministry of Health and Social Development has engaged several strategic initiatives geared towards ending AIDS. These include strategies to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, the availability of post exposure prophylaxis (PEP), and by treating all persons that test positive with anti-retroviral medications.
“HIV care and treatment is also covered under the NHI programme which eases the financial cost to persons living with HIV,” Ms. Hannibal said.
The first case of HIV/AIDS was reported in the BVI in June of 1985. Since then there have been 127 reports. There were six cases in 2015 and four cases in 2016 with an equal distribution between male and females. The age ranged between 21 and 66 for females and 21 and 51 for males.
The Family Health Programme in the Ministry of Health and Social Development provides education to key populations and at risk groups, educational materials, condoms and free HIV testing. The goal is to encourage and empower individuals to make the best possible decisions to safeguard themselves and protect others from contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.