Free HIV testing

The Health Services Authority and the Cayman AIDS Foundation are offering free HIV testing to all Cayman Islands residents from 25 June to 3 July as part of HIV Testing Week 2009.

The testing will take place at the Cayman Islands Hospital and at the district health clinics.

HIV Testing Week and National Testing Day – which is Friday, 26 June – is an annual event established by the Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS in the Unites States to encourage everyone, especially those who think they may be at risk, to access voluntary counselling and testing.

The Health Services Authority’s STI/AIDS Programme Coordinator Nurse Pauline Ffrench explained why the authority had joined with the Cayman AIDS Foundation in the effort.

‘Knowing one’s HIV status is of vital importance, for recent medical advances in HIV treatment indicate that early diagnosis and treatment can improve the quality of life for persons who have the HIV infection,’ she said.

‘Early diagnosis and treatment has also been shown to prolong and improve the lives of those in whom the HIV infection has developed into full-blown AIDS.’

Ms Ffrench said a week of activities aimed at promoting awareness of HIV prevention had been organised, in addition to the testing.

‘The testing procedure involves a quick and simple blood test,’ she said.

Special arrangements will be in place to facilitate speed and confidentiality. No appointment is necessary during this week, and the waiting time will be no more than 10 to 16 minutes. People seeking testing or counselling will need to indicate to the registration clerks that they would like to register for free HIV screening.

Test results will be available in three working days and will be given to the patient only, who must return to the clinic where the test was taken.

Apart from advocating regular testing, Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr. Anna Matthews is further encouraging residents to take personal precautions to remain HIV-negative.

‘This disease is now a modern day reality, since the Cayman Islands has such a diverse and fluid population.’

She also noted the Caribbean region has the second highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the world, second only to Sub-Saharan Africa.

There are several risk factors for exposure to HIV. These include any unprotected sexual contact, intravenous drug use and mother-to-child transmission.

Anyone who has been exposed or has a partner who has been exposed to these risk factors should be tested for HIV, Dr. Matthews noted.

‘The advances in treating HIV have, thankfully, worked to reduce significantly, mother-to-child transmission in the Cayman Islands with over 90 per cent success rate and dispel many of the myths and stigmas formerly associated with HIV-testing and with the disease,’ said Dr Matthews.

‘The advances have been such that knowing you are infected is information that can help to prolong life, by allowing for appropriate treatment. With that in mind the opportunity for testing should therefore be welcomed rather than feared.’

For more information about HIV Testing Week, contact AIDS Programme Coordinator Pauline Ffrench at 244-2631, or [email protected]; or Health Promotion Officer Therese Prehay, at 244-2632, or [email protected].