Free HIV testing will be available for all residents this week, starting Monday.
The Health Services Authority, the Cayman AIDS Foundation and the Cayman Islands Red Cross have organized HIV Testing Week to promote awareness of how to prevent the disease. In addition to free HIV testing, counseling by trained and experienced personnel will be available across the islands.
The week’s activity coincides with international HIV testing days around the world under the theme “Take the Test, Take Control.”
“These [efforts] include new targets and benchmarks for expanding HIV testing and treatment by 2020 in an effort to reduce new HIV infections, late diagnosis and AIDS-related deaths, as well as to improve the quality of life of people living with HIV,” said Dr. Kiran Kumar, medical officer of health.
With the Caribbean region having the second highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the world, second only to sub-Saharan Africa, Caribbean and Latin American governments are taking measures to control the epidemic.
This is the outcome of the recent Latin America and Caribbean Forum on the HIV continuum of care, and is in keeping with the Joint United Nations Programs on AIDS and Pan American Health Organization 2020 treatment targets for the two regions. These targets include increasing to 90 percent the proportion of people living with HIV who know their diagnosis, increasing to 90 percent the proportion of people living with HIV receiving anti-retroviral treatment and increasing to 90 percent the proportion of people on HIV treatment who have an undetectable viral load.
“Since the first case in 1985, thus far 119 persons in the Cayman Islands were diagnosed with HIV, of whom 68 developed AIDS and 42 of them have died. 17 persons are currently living abroad. Thus, there are 60 persons with HIV living in the Cayman Islands,” Dr. Kumar said.
Nurse Laura Elniski, local HIV /AIDS coordinator said, “The 90-90-90 target is a huge task and can only be collectively achieved in the region through community involvement and by each sexually active person… taking responsibility for their own health. In this sense, by taking the test you can know your HIV status and take control.”
She added that by diagnosing HIV and starting treatment earlier, healthcare providers can dramatically improve patients’ health outcomes and prevent transmission of the disease.
Minister of Health Osbourne Bodden is urging residents to take advantage of the free testing.
“I support and applaud the work of the Health Services Authority, CAF and the Cayman Islands Red Cross in their efforts to make HIV testing accessible and at no cost to the individual. It is better to be in the know, than not. The stigma needs to be removed from this disease, and proper care and preventative measures taken,” said Mr. Bodden.
No appointment is necessary for testing this week, and the waiting time for testing is usually no more than 10 minutes. Those seeking testing or counseling only need to indicate to the registration clerks that they would like to register for a free HIV screening.
The results, which will be available in three working days, will be given only to the patient, who must return to clinic to receive the results. Those who have been tested outside of the clinics will be advised on how to get the results at the time of testing, which involves collecting blood.