Aids foundation wants more persons to get tested

POSTED: 12/2/14 6:57 PM

GREAT BAY—As St. Maarten joined the rest of the world in observing World Aids Day yesterday, December 1, the local Aids foundation continued their year round efforts to keep the awareness of the disease at the forefront while breaking down stigma attached to the virus.

Since opening its office in 2013 and introducing free testing three days a week, the foundation tests on average 25 persons per month for the killer disease. Executive director of the Aids foundation Ray Merlep said that while the foundation reaches a fairly large number of persons with its message and free testing, there are still many that fall through the cracks. She explained that there are still those persons who say, “I can’t get Aids,” or those who are sexually active but refuse to get tested. In some cases these persons don’t get tested because they are in monogamous relationships so believe there is no need for testing.

World AIDS Day began in 1988 to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS and work to end the epidemic. HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. HIV can progress into AIDS, the final state of the infection when the body is unable to fight disease or infection.

An estimated 34 million people have HIV/AIDS worldwide. In the USA, an estimated 1.2 million people live with HIV and one out of every seven are not aware they have the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sub-Saharan Africa has the most people living with HIV in the world and 70% of all new HIV infections occur there. In 2013, there were an estimated 24.7 million cases in the region, according to the World Health Organization.

There is no cure for HIV, but antiretroviral drugs (ART) have helped people live longer with the virus. In 2013, 12.9 million people received the drug therapy, according to the World Health Organization. From 2005 to 2013, AIDS-related deaths globally have decreased by almost 40% across age groups. However, deaths for children ages 10 to 19 have not decreased, according to UNICEF.

In an invited comment on the occasion of World Aids Day, Merlep noted that although there is more awareness of the disease, statistics in condom use have not changed. She added that locally the use of condoms is largely more advocated by men than by women. The Aids foundation has made concerted effort to bring their message to the youth through events at school like the recent held girl power.

She encourages parents to talk to their children about sex and about sexually transmitted diseases. While Merlep conceded that for many parents it is an uncomfortable subject, she pointed out that kids have access to a lot of information on the internet so in many cases they are knowledgeable on these issues. She however considers it prudent that for parents to be open with their kids and let them know that the doors are always opened.

Merlep and the Aids foundation remain committed to raising awareness of the disease and to erasing stigma attached to Aids and as such they urge the population to get tested. Persons wishing to take advantage of the free testing opportunities may do so on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9:00am to 12 noon. The office is located on the second floor of the Blue Point building in Cole Bay across from Tropicana Casino.

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