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ANTIGUA & BARBUDA LAUNCHES REGIONAL HIV/AIDS TESTING DAY
Thursday 28th June 2012

The fifth annual Regional Testing Day was launched, Wednesday afternoon (27/6/12) under the theme “A Healthy Lifestyle Getting To Zero New HIV infections.” Scotia Bank High Street, during a collaborative approach among AIDS Secretariat-Ministry of Health, Social Transformation, Consumer Affairs & Local Government, Scotiabank, Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV and AIDS and Caribbean Broadcasting Media Partnership on HIV and AIDS.

On Friday (29/6/12), between the hours of 9 am -4pm, Gordon Julien –Country Manager (a.g.) Scotiabank Antigua & Barbuda said, the bank will throw open its doors at two locations (Woods Centre and High Street) for testing, so that professionals from the Ministry of Health, the AIDS Secretariat and other participating agencies may conduct testing, “thereby demonstrating by example, that testing for HIV and AIDS should neither be feared nor shunned.”
 
The tests are free and will be conducted in the strictest of confidence and anonymity that this process deserves.  Statistics from the AIDS Secretariat have shown that in Antigua, 107 persons were tested in 2008, the pilot year, with this number increasing to 232 in 2010. In 2011, for the first time testing was done in Barbuda under the Regional Testing Day banner and the number of persons tested in Antigua and Barbuda almost doubled to 427, with 71 persons tested in Barbuda.
 
Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Social Transformation, and Consumers Affairs & Local Government Senator Malaka Parker emphasized that the issue of HIV/AIDS prevention is a complex problem and requires a multifaceted approach with particular attention to cultural norms. “…As individuals we must appreciate that HIV/AIDS depends not only on the individual, but on the collective. Your lifestyle choices can affect another, and it is when we assess the full aggregate of data concerning the spread of HIV/AIDS, we see patterns of increase that speak to particular demographics, that speak to a pattern of behaviour,” She said.
 
The comparison of HIV/AIDS to other termed, lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and perhaps high cholesterol, may not be that easy to make a similar link to the spread of HIV/AIDS and life style choices.  The HIV/AIDS pandemic has had a profound impact on the Caribbean region and while the language surrounding HIV/AIDS is changing; the region continues to grapple with the reality that the Caribbean remains second in the world in terms of prevalence, to sub Saharan Africa.
 
This “unattractive ranking”, the Senator warns must send a strong signal that our attitudes must display that we understand the gravity of our lifestyles.  She concluded that, “it is therefore evident, based on the contrast between the two countries   that culture, socialization and religion has an impact on how we address issues related to our reproductive health and rights….HIV/AIDS is in fact a lifestyle disease. As interesting l as it may seem on the face of it, we must accept that it is our attitudes towards sex, sexuality and the way we are socialized around this issue that dictates the type of choices we make as individuals, even when armed with information.”
 
In Antigua and Barbuda from 1985 to present there were 919 persons who tested positive to HIV 487 males and 432 females.  In 2011, there were two hundred and sixteen persons (216) with advanced HIV infection. Of that amount one hundred and eighty six (186) were on Anti Retro viral Treatment (ART) at the end of 2011.  Two Hundred and seventeen 217 persons have died from AIDS related illness. Twenty seven (27) persons were lost to follow up, while the age group most infected with HIV is the 20 to 49 age group.
 
It was also noted that to ensure that Antigua and Barbuda get to zero new HIV infections by 2015 every citizen is required to know their HIV Status, Dr. Amina Goodwin –Fernandez Clinical Care Co-ordinator reiterated that there is “hope” for Persons Living with HIV/AIDS as in Antigua & Barbuda there is high quality of service.
 
The Regional HIV Testing Day was conceived by the Caribbean Broadcasting Media Partnership with media mounting a month-long campaign; the exemplary support from the private-sector in Scotiabank offering its locations as some of the testing sites; and the delivery of the technical expertise of voluntary counseling and testing by the public sector through Ministries and Departments of Health, mobilized by PANCAP.

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