All sexually active persons are being urged to come out this Friday, June 26 and get tested for HIV!

This is the call from Senior Medical Officer of Health Dr. Anton Best, who said that this annual event, commemorated each year on June 27, was a significant one for the Barbados Health Ministry’s HIV/AIDS Programme.

He said: "Regional Testing Day is on Saturday, June 27; however, actual HIV testing activities will occur on Friday, June 26, to accommodate our partner, Scotia Bank in fulfilling its goal of offering HIV testing at its branches.

"HIV testing is very important in public health as a prevention intervention. Every person that comes forward for an HIV test has an opportunity to determine what his or her vulnerabilities are and how they may reduce the risk of contracting HIV or other sexually transmitted infections," the Health Official stressed.

Noting that the day is also about understanding good sexual health and reducing the stigma against HIV which is a major public health problem, Dr. Best added. "It is about trying to keep those who are negative – negative, and to reduce the number of new cases of HIV. People should come forward to get an HIV test done. It is very important to know what your status is…, so if you are negative you adopt or maintain safer behaviours and sexual practices. If you are positive, you are referred to the excellent treatment and care services offered by the Government of Barbados."

He stressed that; "Everyone who is sexually active is vulnerable to HIV!"

The VCT campaign here in Barbados will augment the work of the Health Ministry, since such sessions are also done at special times throughout the year, including Valentine’s Day and World AIDS Day.

There are 10 full-time counsellors in the programme and a number of volunteers trained in VCT, who are able to facilitate such events. Usually, results take about one week to be returned. However, according to Dr. Best, "a very special effort will be made, with the staff of the Microbiology Laboratory at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital working overtime, to expedite processing the large numbers of HIV samples, expected on Testing Day."

Regional Testing Day was initiated by the Caribbean Broadcast Media Partnership on HIV/AIDS (CBMP), in 2008 with support from Scotiabank in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and the Pan Caribbean Partnership on HIV/AIDS (PANCAP). The Health Ministry’s role is to facilitate the counselling and testing aspects, while Scotia Bank will use all of its outlets as testing venues.

Lauding the effort, Dr. Best acknowledged that there was significant value attached to partnering with the media and the Bank. "It increases the awareness of the facilities of the Health Ministry’s programme and of VCT services on that particular day. CBMP’s role is the promotion of the VCT campaign through myriad radio and television advertisements that are currently being distributed to its 85 broadcast members from 25 countries throughout the region."

Last year, over 1000 persons participated in the mass HIV testing exercise in Barbados. Some 157 individuals attended the session at the Broad Street branch of Scotia Bank, while 138 persons flocked to the Independence Square location. At the Bank’s Black Rock branch, the figure was 111, while it stood at 125 at Holetown. One hundred and seven persons accessed VCT at the Warrens branch; 153 at the branch at Trimart, Haggatt Hall; another 114 at Wildey and 100 at the branch at Worthing, Christ Church. This year, the national target is set at 1500 persons.

At the regional level, last year more than 2000 people from six territories went to Scotiabank branches to be tested. This year, this figure may double, as there are 14 territories expected to participate in Regional Testing Day.

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