NIA CHARLESTOWN NEVIS (JUNE 27, 2013) — The number of persons who came forward for HIV testing during the annual HIV/AIDS Unit organised – Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) exercise, hosted by the Ministry of Health in the Nevis Island Administration (NIA), continues to climb and Health officials on the island remained hopeful that this year would be no different.
The information came from Education and Prevention Officer in the Ministry of Health’s Health Promotion Unit Nurse Eldina Farrell in an interview with the Department of Information, during an HIV testing exercise at the grounds of the NIA building in Charlestown on June 27, 2013, one day ahead of the Caribbean Regional Testing Day when other HIV Units in collaboration with Scotia Banks in their respective islands carry out the same exercise.
“Every year, we have been seeing an increase in the number of persons coming forward. People are feeling more comfortable. Even though it is in the public, we still provide some privacy and confidentiality, so people are feeling more relaxed now in accessing the services. So we are hoping to have at least 120 persons by the end of the day,” she said.
According to Nurse Farrell, since the drive began some years ago under the theme “Getting to Zero,” a number of HIV positive cases had been discovered through VCT.
“Since the drive began we have been able to find cases, that persons may not normally have gone to the doctor for the test they would have come to this setting or to the HIV/AIDS Unit and so the drive has helped us to discover persons who are positive early and help us to find persons who are negative and help them to stay negative.
“The drive is really getting people to be aware of their HIV status and, whatever it is, to live with it; if it’s negative to try and keep it negative; if you are positive, to live a good quality life even though you are positive and we have made a lot of progress in that area,” she explained.
The Education and Prevention Officer also used the opportunity to urge persons to get tested and become aware of their status at no fee.
“I must encourage persons who may not make it here that they can pop into the HIV/AIDS Unit anytime, Monday to Thursday. Fridays the lab is closed up for samples so we prefer Monday to Thursday anytime between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. and you can walk in and get your HIV test done free of cost,” she said.
Nurse Farrell also explained, that in the event that someone tested positive for the disease it did not automatically mean a death sentence and that there were measures in place to make their life more comfortable.
“If somebody is positive it does not mean that you are going to die now…you can live for a very long time with HIV. People are living 30 years and more. It is a chronic disease basically. You take care of yourself, visit your doctor regularly, avoid infecting yourself with other sexually transmitted diseases, take care of yourself in general – exercise, good nutritious meals, avoid too much stress and stick to one faithful partner. Things like these can help you stay healthy and live long being HIV positive.
“Of course we have drugs available when that time comes. We have care and support so persons in Nevis who have HIV don’t have to pay for medication, the care is basically free,” she said
Meantime, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health on Nevis Hon. Mark Brantley was one of those persons who took the HIV test and said he thought the exercise a worthwhile one.
“We in the Ministry of Health are promoting, very heavily, prevention, prevention, prevention. We are asking people to take advantage of the various mechanisms that the health care service provides, testing not just for HIV but for other diseases. We have Pap Smears which are available free of cost at the local clinics. So we are asking the public to capitalise on those opportunities at no cost to them and know their status and in that way help us to help them and have a healthier society.
“So it is very important, detection is very important. Knowing your status in terms of HIV is very important. By coming here today and testing I am hopeful that that will encourage others to go in. It’s a seamless process. It takes a few minutes and that’s it. So it’s really important I find for our people to go out and really take control of their health,” he said.