Regional HIV testing celebrates 10th year

Basseterre, St. Kitts – The National AIDS secretariat in St. Kitts and Nevis celebrated 10 years of regional testing for HIV with free rapid HIV testing at Independence Square on June 30.

Lucine Pemberton, health educator and counsellor at the National AIDS secretariat, spoke to media representatives to discuss some the activities organised in the month of June as part of the celebration.

“For this month, we have been to business places, work places trying to giving at least 1,000 people the opportunity to at least know their status,” she said, “and today (Friday) is just the culmination of a hard month’s work.”

Pemberton also spoke to the importance of being tested and knowing ones status and stated that everyone ought to be tested. “We are now just using three drops of blood and in 10 to 12 minutes, one can know his or her status,” she said. “We are encouraging everybody to [get tested]. Why is this important? If one is diagnosed with having HIV, they do not have to progress to AIDS. Once you know, early detection equals early treatment and you can live a much longer and higher quality of life.”

She added that the testing and treatment is free and also offers friendly and confidential counselling.

Pemberton further spoke about how the response had been to the testing at Independence Square and throughout the entire month.

“The response has been encouraging there has been long lines,” she said. “When we go to the work places, we have had about 98 percent being tested and knowing their status and being able to access other services.”

She also had a word of caution for those whose result show that they are not infected with the disease to guard against complacency.

“After [people] have gotten their results, especially a negative result, people tend to feel at ease and comfortable and get caught up in that and this is only half of the game,” she said. “The other half is how do you stay negative? So, we encourage, we beseech, we advise [people] to use condoms, not just tonight and not just  tomorrow because it’s my birthday [etc.]. It is correct, consistent use what will do the trick.”

She also implored individuals to use condoms that she said are free at the hospital and at the National AIDS Secretariat and at every health centre. “If you ever had sex before, if you are sexually active now and if you are planning to, [please use a condom],” she said. “After you have gotten your results, we will give you back a little card, “your lover’s license,” because you should not be in a relationship unless you know your status.”

Gardenia Destang-Richardson, National AIDS Programme coordinator, stated that it serves as an encouragement for individuals to get tested.

“This is an opportunity for ministries of health in all countries to get together to stage an event that would encourage more to know their HIV statuses toward [finding the way to]end of eliminating AIDS,” she said. She added that the first step in the elimination process is getting people tested and knowing their status so they can take some sort of action to help reduce transmission rate or keep a negative status.

“This whole initiative is something that we have been doing for the last 10 years, geared toward getting more people to know their HIV status,” she said.

Destang-Richardson indicated that every year there are 10-15 new cases because of new testings revealing the cases. “The cases may go up as testing increases, but that does not mean that you have an outburst or an outbreak of new people with the virus,” she said. “It just means that more people are knowing whether they have it or not.”

She added that the numbers are very stable based on what they have seen and are consistent with what they have seen in the past.  Sh, however, urged individuals to find out their status.

“We do believe that there are [people] walking around who don’t know their HIV statuses, if whether they are positive or negative,” she said. “So, we are asking the question: Are you positive or are you negative? And you can only know this by having the test.”

According to  information published in in December, there were 270 individuals on records with the virus.