Get tested for HIV – free!

The Health Services Authority and the Cayman AIDS Foundation are offering free HIV testing to all Cayman Islands residents throughout HIV Testing Week 2009, 25 June – 3 July.

HIV Testing Week and National Testing Day (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 they think may be at risk, to access voluntary counselling and testing.

‘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,’ explained the HSA’s AIDS Programme Coordinator, Nurse Pauline Ffrench.

‘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,’ she said.

Ms Ffrench said a week of activities has been planned locally to raise awareness about HIV prevention. These activities include poster displays, educational sessions in the schools and free HIV testing and voluntary counselling across the islands.

‘The testing procedure involves a quick and simple blood test,’ Nurse Ffrench 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 ten to fifteen minutes. Persons seeking testing or counselling will need to indicate to the registration clerks that they would like to register for free HIV screening. These results will be available in three working days and will be given to the patient only, who must return to clinic where the test was taken.

‘The sooner a person finds out his or her HIV status, the sooner he or she can take action to increase the chances of remaining healthy,’ said HSA Health Promotion Officer Therese Prehay.

Calling on residents to take precautions to remain HIV-negative, Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr. Anna Matthews noted that the Caribbean has the second highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the world, second only to Sub Saharan Africa.

According to public health figures, there are currently 46 people living with HIV or AIDS in the Cayman Islands. A total of 88 people have had HIV since the first cases was registered here in 1985, 30 of which have died.

Disproving stereotypes that HIV/AIDS is a homosexual disease, figures show that 68 per cent of HIV cases and almost 60 per cent of AIDS cases in the Islands have affected heterosexual people.

There are several risk factors for exposure to HIV, including 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 mother transmission in the Cayman Islands with over 90% success rate and dispel many of the myths and stigmas formerly associated with HIV-testing and with the disease,’ she said.

Dr. Matthews added: ‘The advances have been such that knowing you are infected is information that can help to prolong life, by allowing for appropriate treatment.’

Testing is being done at the Public Health Clinic and the General Practice Clinic of the Cayman Islands hospital, and at all the district clinics. Free tests will be available from 9am to 2pm Thursday 25 June through to Friday 3 July.

For more information about HIV Testing Week, contact AIDS Programme Coordinator Pauline Ffrench at 244-2631, or [email protected].