This World AIDS Day poster was published by the Florida Department of Health.

CASTRIES, St. Lucia–December 1st, 2020–Since 1988, the world has commemorated World AIDS Day on December 1st. The 2020 theme is “Global Solidarity, Shared Responsibility.”

2020 marks 35 years since Saint Lucia registered its first documented case of HIV and today the St. Lucia government published the celebration article that of which the text follows here, reminding islanders of what has been done so far, and what services and treatments are available.

According to UNAIDS 2019 figures, there are 38 million persons across the globe with HIV/AIDS. As of September 2020, in Saint Lucia, there are 834 persons known to be alive with HIV. Only 349 of those persons are taking treatment for HIV.

We have come a long way since 1985, from a period where the only treatment on offer was multivitamins. Now, we have anti-retroviral treatment, also known as HIV medication that allows persons who are infected with HIV to live well and live long. We have rapid testing for HIV. A finger prick, a few drops of blood and fifteen minutes is all it takes to determine whether you may be infected with HIV. Persons can get assessment and treatment at our public sexual and reproductive health clinics or privately, from physicians who are experienced in HIV management.

Testing can be requested at any of our Community Wellness Centers or at our partner civil society organizations such as United & Strong Inc. and the St. Lucia Planned Parenthood Association. Testing is very important to you, for you to know where you are with HIV.

While we have made strides in testing and treatment, stigma and discrimination regarding HIV continues. Remember, no one is immune to HIV. You do not get HIV from touching, kissing, hugging, handshakes, sharing food, sharing a seat, etc. If you are sexually active and do not use condoms, you at risk for getting HIV. There is a well-known saying, “Man knows thyself” You are responsible for yourself. Protect yourself.

If you have HIV and have not started treatment, we are available to get you started. Testing is free and treatment is free. If you have HIV and have not told your partner, protect your partner, use condoms. Tell your partner; they need to know; they need to get tested. This brings up another well-known saying, “You are your Brother’s Keeper” Please hear and remember this, persons who are infected with HIV can live long, productive and healthy lives.

So, this December 1st, 2020, pause for a moment. Think about HIV and what it means to you. Let us all find our light in this continued fight against HIV.

Although the Caribbean has made great strides in reducing AIDS-related deaths (from 11,000 in 2010 to 6,900 in 2019) and new HIV cases (from about 18,000 to 13,000 annually), disease management is still a key public health issue in a region where sex education is typically omitted from the school curriculum, and where social stigma around the disease still persists.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has advocated for self-testing kits to be made readily available throughout the Caribbean:

The United States Embassy in Barbados focused on some of the progress being made in the fight against HIV/AIDS, including the establishment of the Best Dos Santos Laboratory, which helps high-risk people access HIV tests early so that they can immediately undergo life-saving treatment.

Dr, Rosmond Adams, the director of the Pan-Caribbean Partnership Against HIV/AIDS (PANCAP), noted that regional restrictions being imposed as a result of COVID-19 have had an impact on the ability to deliver HIV-related services, including educational and prevention measures, treatment and laboratory tests.

However, several countries have taken stop-gap measures. Belize has put its wider social worker network to good use by using civil society organizations to carry out a needs assessment of people living with HIV. Jamaica has accessed grants that help with nutritional and financial support. Barbados, in addition to offering virtual medical consultations, has arranged for the delivery of food and medication to patients.