A significant number of persons in Barbados still don’t know their HIV status — and this of concern to health authorities.
Even more alarming, says Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Joy St. John, is that many Barbadians are being diagnosed at a late stage when it is difficult to prevent them from succumbing to AIDS.
The CMO said this was why initiatives such as today’s Regional Testing Day, now in its sixth year, was important. She was speaking at the official opening ceremony in Parliament Court Yard, The City, to mark the event which is a collaboration between the Caribbean Broadcast Media Partnership on HIV/AIDS, Scotia Bank and the Pan-Caribbean partnership Against HIV.
“St. John told those in attendance that over the last 11 years, HIV had transitioned from an acute and “almost uniformly fatal disease” to a chronic manageable disease. This, she pointed out, was due to Government’s provision of the wide range of anti-retroviral drugs.
“However, to reduce the number of people who are becoming infected with HIV, the national programme must continue to place emphasis on HIV prevention. HIV testing is a fundamental aspect of our national HIV prevention and control efforts.
“Leading the team of persons providing HIV testing services is Mrs. Dawn Jackman, the Domiciliary Care Coordinator. Her core team on a day-to-day basis comprises nine counsellors who provide HIV testing and counselling on a daily basis. These officers are an integral part of a larger team which has been mobilised specifically to provide HIV testing services for [Regional Testing Day 2013], which has now become our biggest annual HIV community outreach event,” she said.
St. John emphasised that HIV testing was not just about the Ministry of Health “taking a blood test”. Instead, she pointed out that knowing one’s status was about empowerment. She noted that the HIV programme and those who get tested could conclusively alter the realities of the disease.
“By enhancing access to HIV testing so more people know their status, more people make informed decisions to improve their health and are diagnosed at earlier stages which enhances the ministry’s ability to assist them in achieving healthier outcomes. HIV testing is fundamental for ensuring that the diagnosis of HIV merely ensures access to the treatment that allows an infected person to live a long and productive life,” she surmised.
Minister of Health, John Boyce, reiterated the CMO’s sentiments. He said Government’s mandate was to reduce HIV transmission and to improve the quality of life of persons living with HIV.
He noted that Regional Testing Day helped the national HIV programme to achieve its strategic objectives related to HIV by increasing the number of people who were tested.
“This event has grown in coverage over the years, enabling us to test large numbers of persons in excess of 1,000. These large numbers are impressive and clearly demonstrate the influential power of the media and the importance of strategic alliances such as this,” he said.