A startling revelation was made during observation of World AIDS Day last Friday that should cause every citizen to get tested in effort to know their HIV/AIDS status.
No longer can fingers be pointed at the sexually active youth as the cause for raising HIV numbers in the country as recent statistics have confirmed that the second largest group of persons to get infected with the disease are those 50 years and older, many of whom are in long, established, stable relationships with their respective partners.
The revelation was made by Dr. Francois, Senior Medical Officer for Infectious Control in the Ministry of Health, and Drs. Carlene Radix and Lynette Hardy of the OECS Commission. The trio was at the time speaking to the media on the update in recent gains made by the Ministry and the OECS Commission.
They say that the cited persons in that demographic (50 and older) are not prone to accept messages that promote protection during sex or messages that call on them to be tested in order for them to know their HIV status. The 50 years and older persons believe that because of the length of time they are in a relationship with one person, whether they are married or unmarried, that such messages do not apply to them, and that they are not at risk of getting HIV.
“But people stray. You are not with your partner 24/7. People fifty-plus years and an older think they are not at risk, but it is a group in which we see increasing numbers (being infected). Automatically, we think of the young people and teach them and empower them, but all of us need look at our sexual practices. All of us have to get tested. The disease does not discriminate,” Dr. Francois said.
The greater incidents of new cases of HIV occur in the age group 25–49. This has been so for years, something the Ministry of Health has been trying to reduce within that age group and in other age groups as well. The Ministry is also proud of its efforts that show less new cases of HIV being registered and persons diagnosed with the virus are living much longer than before.
“At the Ministry of Health, we work towards the elimination of AIDS. We have, to date, approximately 700-plus persons living with HIV in St. Lucia. This in itself is an accomplishment for us. We have seen the introduction of antiretroviral therapy and this has prolonged the lives of persons living with HIV. We have persons living with HIV for 20–30 years who have been very productive in society and continue to have families. AIDS is no longer a death sentence. Getting the HIV virus is no longer a death sentence and although we continue to see a decrease in the number of new cases yearly, we acknowledge we still have work to do,” Dr. Francois said.
Another success for the Ministry is the prevention of HIV from an infected mother to a child and the establishment of a programme that follows pregnant women from the time they are diagnosed to delivery of their newborns.