St. Lucia has recorded 44 new cases of the HIV/AIDS virus last year and health officials are urging the public to know their status as the infection rate among men is almost double that of women.
Acting Senior Medical Officer for Infectious Diseases, Dr. Gail Gajadhar said the number of new HIV cases have remained about the same over the past three years.
According to the official figures released here, the number of new HIV infections was 46, 42 and 44 respectively.
“We found that there has been twice the number of men compared to women. In terms of all those numbers our goal is to reduce our numbers further. We’re hoping persons will be able to practice being faithful to their partner, using protection, things like that.
“But it’s not only about that; we want persons to get tested too because there are still persons out there who may not want to get tested, who do not want to go for testing,” Dr. Gajadhar said.
HIV is treated like any other chronic disease, such as diabetes and hypertension, where treatment and medication are provided free of charge at public health clinics and Dr. Gajadhar encouraged all sexually active persons to know their HIV status by getting an HIV test which is also free and available at the sexual and reproductive health clinics and selected wellness centres across the island.
“We have done a population size estimate study, so we know we have key populations out there. We have men who have sex with men (MSM), we have transactional workers, (and) we also have other vulnerable populations like the youth and migrants.
“So we’re encouraging everyone to come in to get tested. And like I said it does not matter whether you are from St. Lucia or migrating into St. Lucia we offer free testing and free treatment to all persons no matter where you’re from. We don’t discriminate.”
The medical officer said that while globally, funding for HIV/AIDS has reduced, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) region is fortunate to have received a Global Fund Grant which as allow the region and St. Lucia to accomplish a number of significant goals.
“They have assisted us with many things. We have an HIV drug resistant study that is ongoing. They assisted with the population size estimate study, they recently assisted with a motivational interviewing workshop that was held last week.
“They have assisted with training for rapid syphilis testing and combination test for rapid syphilis and HIV testing which will assist in diagnosing more patients with syphilis and what we are trying to do reduce the transmission of syphilis from mother to child.”
The Medical Officer for Infectious Diseases stated that the OECS anxiously awaits approval for a continuation grant from the Global Fund with will allow St. Lucia and the Caribbean region to achieve the 90-90-90 targets set by UNAIDS to end the AIDS epidemic.