PRESS RELEASE – BUILDING on the observance of World AIDS Day on December 1, a Syphilis/HIV rapid testing and certification workshop was conducted last week. This training brings St. Lucia closer to achieving the 90/90 target by the year 2020 set by UNAIDS.
According to the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), since 2010, PAHO member states have been committed to the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis in the region. These commitments were renewed and expanded in 2016 through the approved Plan of Action for the Prevention and Control of HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections (2016-2021), contributing to the end of AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections as a public health problem in the Americas.
A four-day PAHO-funded HIV/syphilis rapid testing and certification workshop brought together participants from St. Jude and Victoria Hospitals, the Wellness Centres, Bordelais Correctional Facility, civil society and the Bureau of Health Education. Master Trainer for HIV/STI, Lorna Wilson, was the lead facilitator for this capacity building workshop.
“What we are trying to implement is point-of-care rapid testing and syphilis for all our clients who come to the health facility, especially pregnant women. UNAIDS has set targets for us, the 90/90 targets by the year 2020, and the only way we are going to accomplish that is by actually training people and providing the testing that will help us meet those goals.”
Syphilis is a bacterial infection that is most often spread by sexual contact. If it is not treated, syphilis can lead to serious problems, such as heart problems, neurological problems, blindness, dementia, and death. HIV and syphilis are major concerns for most at-risk populations.
Bennet Charles, Communications and Advocacy Officer for United and Strong, said his organization is always happy to partner with the Ministry of Health on such initiatives.
“I think an even bigger picture is looking at the issues we have with congenital syphilis, ensuring that at the point-of-care that pregnant women can actually come in get tested and get some level of treatment directly. For the MSM and LGBT community, we do have the issue of co-infection when it comes to syphilis. Every time you have the presence of HIV, there is the issue of syphilis. So being able to offer such point-of-care services at our newly-opened outreach clinic at United and Strong puts us in a better position to actually respond to the needs of the community members and, like I said, reaching those 90/90 targets.”
Bennet also explained the two types of certification being offered during the workshop.
“For the HIV testing training, the participants had to be certified by actually running twenty samples and, based on the results of those samples, they would be evaluated and certified as official HIV Rapid Testers. The second part of the training is for syphilis. For syphilis, they need to run 10 samples and, based on the evaluation by the trainers, the participants would be certified as official syphilis testers at the end of this. So when they return to their very own facilities, they would be certified and be in a position to actually conduct the testing at their facilities.”
Participants, Nurse Nadia Barley from the Laborie Wellness Centre and Nurse Natasha Biscette from the Bordelais Correctional Facility, explained the impact this training will have on their service delivery.
“I am happy about it because at least our clients will be able to be provided with those essential services, especially within the antenatal clinics,” Barley said.
Biscette stated, “Usually in the past whenever an inmate comes to the facility what we did was withdraw the blood and send it to a lab so that we could get the results. We usually get it within a week but with this programme — what we’re doing here now with the rapid testing — we would be able to get the results at that time. So when they come in to us, we can interview them and at the same time do the rapid test, so within 15 minutes we will be able to know the results.”
The four-day training and certification workshop, which culminated on December 8, was held at the St. Lucia National Mental Wellness Centre.