Barbadians have been advised to know their HIV status.

Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Joy St John, speaking on behalf of Minister of Health, Jerome Walcott, at the opening ceremony of the Caribbean Cytometry and Analytical Society (CCAS) Caribbean International HIV Workshop last evening said that too many Barbadians were still unaware of their HIV status.

She stated that despite a major reduction in the number of people dying from AIDS, there were still too many people becoming newly infected.

Dr. St John said: “There is a need for a greater thrust in our prevention efforts if we are to succeed in achieving better control of our HIV epidemic.”

Stressing the importance of the augmentation of HIV testing, she said: “This would allow for more people to be aware of their status and potentially reduce new transmissions of HIV. There is a great need to employ new ideas and new tools that are appropriate to our environment, while still adhering to human rights and reducing stigma and discrimination.”

The Chief Medical Officer added that a “newly established HIV testing Committee will review HIV practices and formulate strategies to increase the number of persons being tested for the disease. Such strategies will include Provider Initiated Counselling and Testing and Rapid Testing”.

UN Special Advisor for HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean and the featured speaker, Sir George Alleyne, stressed the importance of addressing stigma and discrimination and its potential to threaten an appropriate national response to the epidemic.

He said: “Internalisation of stigma may affect the individual to the extent that he or she loses self-esteem and becomes depressed, which may lead to less than optimum adherence to the prescribed regimen. Depression, suicidal ideation and suicide itself are more common in persons with known HIV infection than in the general population.”

Sir George noted that there was a large number of persons who did not know their HIV status and were reluctant to have the test done for several reasons. “There may be the perception of invulnerability or the myth of lack of risk, in addition to the stigma and discrimination which may attend the positive test,” he said.

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