PS: “KNOWN HIV INFECTIONS MAY BE TIP OF THE ICEBERG”

The original article can be found in: The Anguillan

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Social Development, Dr. Bonnie Richardson-Lake, says the prevalence of HIV is very low in Anguilla when compared with the rest of the Caribbean. She has observed, however, that there is still much concern on the island about the real statistics of the disease.

Dr. Richardson-Lake was at the time delivering the feature address at a Stakeholders Workshop held by the Anguilla Community Action Network Foundation (ACAN) on July 11. The organisation seeks to provide support for persons infected and affected by HIV/AIDS and to eliminate stigma and discrimination facing them.

“During the period 1988-2011, there were 40 reported cases of HIV infection in Anguilla with the majority of persons infected being between the ages of 30-39,” the Permanent Secretary reported. “Of the known infections, 17 were females and 23 were males. We know that this is most likely just the tip of the iceberg because many do not know their HIV status. Others may have tested elsewhere and are therefore unknown to us.”

Dr. Richardson-Lake continued: “Anguilla, like the rest of the region, has seen some successes in the fight against HIV/AIDS. We are not eligible for many of the programmes that the independent countries enjoy such as the Global Fund, the World Bank and some of the OECS monies. Despite this, we are very proud of our ability to get low-cost anti-retroviral drugs into Anguilla and out to the persons who need them.

“There are many countries around the globe that still have not been able to achieve this. There are currently 33.3 million people living with HIV world-wide, and 5 million require treatment and are unable to access it.

“We are equally proud of our prevention of mother-to-child transmission programme. Nearly 100% of all pregnant women, accessing prenatal care in the public and private sectors, agree to be HIV tested. If pregnant women are found to be infected they are given medication to prevent the transmission to their children. I am pleased to report that due to early detection, and medication, none of our HIV positive mothers have transmitted the virus to their babies.

“Our condom distribution programme has also been quite successful. Condoms are widely available across the island. With UNFPA’s assistance, we have been able to make the female condom available as well.

“Anguilla was fortunate to benefit from two recent funding projects – the DFID project and the EU project – which had a number of positive outputs as follows:

“The National AIDS Programme has completed an HIV and Other Life Threatening Illness Workplace Policy to guard against stigma and discrimination in the workplace.

“We have partnered with the tourism industry to promote health and wellness in the industry which will focus in part on HIV and AIDS issues.

“We are very much aware of how important reaching the youth is, in our fight against AIDS, and through the EU project we are able to provide a series of capacity-building activities for the youth.

“A little over a year ago, the National AIDS Programme launched the opening of a Youth Friendly Space at the AIDS Office. This space is created for young people as a comfortable setting where they can access information, education, counselling, conduct research on sexual and reproductive health and other issues or simply hang out.

“The AIDS Programme was also instrumental in training teachers in Health & Family Life Education through funding from the EU project.

“Just two weeks ago the programme partnered with Scotia Bank and the Saint James School of Medicine to provide a free HIV testing day…Over 100 persons were tested over the course of a day and a half.

“These are just a few of the many outputs of the National HIV/AIDS STI and Sexual and Reproductive Health Programme. But, as I said earlier, we will require the help and support of all of you to continue the work that we do.

“This is why I am so happy to have Anguilla Community Action Network Foundation (ACAN) on board as we work to combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic. I must say I was quite impressed with the draft strategic plan. I now have a better understanding of ACAN’s future plans and how they might dovetail with the work of the Ministry. I would like to take this opportunity to state publicly that you have the full support of the Ministry of Health and Social Development, and I look forward to very fruitful collaboration.”

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