Free HIV screening

As part of this year’s World AIDS Day activities, the Health Services Authority is offering free HIV screenings this week.

According to the latest government figures, 88 people in Cayman have been diagnosed with HIV since 1985 when the first case was reported here.

Of those, half have developed into AIDS and 30 have died.

One new case was diagnosed this year, although government figures are only available to March.

Health Minister Mark Scotland, in a statement to mark World Aids Day today said: ‘This year’s World AIDS Day is distinctly marked by the desire to increase awareness levels so we can free HIV/AIDS sufferers from added – and wholly unnecessary – burdens of stigmatisation and discrimination.’

He said AIDS had killed an estimated 2.1 million people, including 330,000 children, worldwide.

Mr. Scotland said stigmatising HIV and AIDS sufferers prevented people from seeking diagnosis and treatment.

He called on the public to do two things – ‘Respect those who have the disease and protect yourself and others by getting tested regularly and by practising safe sex.’

Of the patients diagnosed in Cayman, 47 have been male and 41 female. The vast majority – 60 – are heterosexual, while 15 are homosexual, according to the statistics.

Four babies were born with HIV, with one being adopted from overseas. Two HIV sufferers were intravenous drug users.

The statistics also give a breakdown of age ranges of those who tested positive for HIV. More than a quarter were aged 25-29 when diagnosed, and nearly 16 per cent were diagnosed when aged 30-34.

The figures only apply to Caymanians, spouses of Caymanians and residents who have been on island for a minimum of three years.

Free screenings are available throughout the week until Friday at the Public Health Department and the General Practice Clinic at the Cayman Islands Hospital, all district health centres and Faith Hospital on Cayman Brac from 9am to 2pm.

No appointments are necessary and the waiting time for testing is no more than 10 minutes, according to the health authority.

On Little Cayman, tests will be done at the Health Centre. Residents can call 948-0072 to make an appointment.

Public health officials are urging people to take responsibility for their own health by getting tested regularly. ‘Knowing your HIV-status plays a key role in lowering the incidence of the disease, said STI/AIDS Programme Coordinator Pauline Ffrench.

‘World AIDS Day provides an opportunity for all of us – individuals, communities and political leaders – to take action and ensure that human rights are protected and global targets for HIV prevention, treatment, care and support are met.’

World AIDS Day began in 1988 when health ministers from around the world agreed on the concept of the day as an opportunity to demonstrate the importance of fighting AIDS.

This year’s theme ‘Universal Access and Human Rights’.

A candle light vigil will be held tonight [Tuesday] at 6pm at the Elmslie Memorial Church in George Town. There will also be a march from the Cayman Islands Hospital to the church, beginning at 5.30pm.