Free Bus Rides Educate About HIV

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By John Denny Observer Reporter
(Charlestown, Nevis) ” Over 60 people decided to “know their status” and participated in Voluntary Counseling and Testing day on Wednesday at the Department of Health. Earlier in the week, Peace Corps volunteers paid for bus rides from Charlestown to Gingerland and Butlers in an opportunity to discuss and educate passengers about HIV/AIDS. “We asked people before they got on the bus if in exchange for a free bus ride, they would be willing to listen to some information about HIV,” said Peace Corps volunteer Adam Lawler who works in the Nevis HIV/AIDS Unit. “No one turned us down.” The volunteers made five trips on the “Slammer” bus to Gingerland, driven by Nigel Simmons and then made five trips to Butlers in “Jah Love,” driven by Noel Butler. The free bus ride project had three objectives: education; feedback and promoting Wednesday’s free testing day. “We reached a lot of people and received a lot of feedback. Some said they really enjoyed it, because the radio was turned off and people were actually carrying on a conversation, instead of everyone just being quiet and keeping to themselves,” Mr. Lawler said. The feedback from the passengers was excellent and informative for the passengers as well as the volunteers, he said. “There are a lot of misconceptions about HIV and I think we were able to correct some of the misinformation and wrong ideas people have,” said Mr. Lawler. “There were suggestions of how more could be done to help and on the other end there was the suggestion of tattooing those infected and locking them away somewhere. This came from a Rasta, so I asked him about their belief in one love, unity, freedom from oppression and how that fit in with wanting to brand people, exclude them and lock them in a box. Hopefully we gave several people food for thought.” At the free testing event Wednesday, those coming in learn know their status were counseled before and after being tested. Test results were available in about an hour. Free condoms were distributed and information was available on how they were to be used. A slightly different crowd came to know their status Wednesday, according to Permanent Secretary of Health Nicole Slack-Liburd. “We had a lot of people coming in for the first time to be tested,” she said. “When we have done this before, we would see a lot of the same people coming back to be retested. It is good to see more people coming in for the first time.” In an interview earlier this week, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Hon. Hensley Daniel outlined the Administration’s policy on HIV testing. “Here in St. Kitts and Nevis, the purpose of the policy is to standardize the procedural and ethical conditions under which testing for HIV can occur in St. Kitts and Nevis,” he said. Implementing coping and acceptance strategies, planning for future orphan care, reducing mother to child transmission, reducing stigma, enabling preventive therapy, contraceptive advice and early management of infections are some of the approaches the Department of Health are taking in dealing with this plague. “”I want to commend the HIV/AIDS unit for bringing the service to the fore, second time in a year, and for continuing to push the idea that people must know their status,” said Minister Daniel. “I want to thank all those persons who have responded so far, thank our workers and I believe that with this continued engagement it will help us to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS overtime.” At the end of 2007, an estimated 230,000 people were living with HIV and AIDS in the Caribbean. Some 20,000 people were newly infected during 2007, and there were 14,000 deaths due to AIDS. AIDS is now one of the leading causes of death in some of these countries, with Haiti being the worst affected. An estimated 7,500 lives are lost each year to AIDS in Haiti, and thousands of children have been orphaned by the epidemic. Overall, the main route of HIV transmission in the Caribbean is heterosexual sex. Much of this transmission is associated with commercial sex, but the virus is also spreading in the general population, especially in Haiti. Sex between men is also a major factor in some countries’ epidemics. Cultural and behavioral patterns, such as early initiation of sexual acts, and taboos related to sex and sexuality, gender inequalities, lack of confidentiality, stigmatization and economic need are some of the factors influencing vulnerability to HIV and AIDS in the Caribbean. (Some information provided by the Nevis Government Information Service)

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