THIS year, 2023, marks the 35th commemoration of “World AIDS Day” with the chosen theme “Let Communities Lead”. Saint Lucia documented its first known case of HIV in 1985. Back then HIV/AIDS were highly stigmatized and many persons living with HIV and their families’ experienced discrimination. Unfortunately, today, stigma and discrimination both still affect persons living with HIV and the communities who have a higher risk of acquiring HIV. HIV has no face, race, color or sex. That person with HIV could be your mother, father, brother, sister, daughter, son, friend, spouse or partner.
As a nation, we have transitioned from not having any medication to managing HIV, to anti-retroviral therapy, that is, HIV treatment; available and free of cost to the patient.
A screening test, 15 minutes, can help you understand whether you may have HIV, and that test can be confirmed.
If you have multiple sexual partners and are engaging in unprotected sex or have an HIV positive sexual partner, you can protect yourself and reduce your risk of getting HIV by taking 1 pill a day called PrEP – pre-exposure prophylaxis.
The amount of virus in your body can be measured with a single lab test, a viral load, performed at our own Ezra Long Laboratory.
In 2023, the early 21st century, no one should be dying as a result of AIDS in Saint Lucia. In 2022, globally, 630,000 persons died from AIDS related illnesses. From January 2023 until the end of September, 15 persons have died as a result of AIDS related illnesses in-country. HIV is a chronic disease and it requires anti-retroviral therapy treatment for effective management.
Of the 294 persons actively collecting HIV medication, 46% are virally suppressed. We can do better. Persons have been dying from AIDS related illnesses because they have been diagnosed at a late stage in the disease or they have not accepted that they have the HIV infection.
The blunt facts about HIV are as follows:
• HIV is not a myth; it still exists;
• There is no cure for HIV (yet);
• If you are sexually active, you are at risk for getting HIV;
• With consistent, daily medication you can live well and live a long life with HIV;
• To get diagnosed early, you need to take the test;
Let this day, December 1st, 2023 put HIV first and foremost in your mind.
Have a frank conversation with your healthcare provider. Find out what are your options?
• Where to get screened for HIV
• How to prevent getting the HIV infection
• And, if you have HIV, how you can live a long, healthy life
No one should be dying from AIDS. Do not let yourself become another AIDS statistic in Saint Lucia. For more information, please contact the Sexual and Reproductive Health Clinic at the Castries Wellness Center: 468-8886 or 8887 and at the Vieux Fort Wellness Center: 468-7985 or 7986.