Two major initiatives are afoot to improve access to HIV testing in Barbados.

According to Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Joy St. John, “Barbados is planning the introduction of Provider Initiated Testing and Counselling and Rapid Testing for HIV.”

She was speaking today at a Regional Symposium on HIV Rapid Testing, hosted by the Ministry of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) and the Caribbean HIV/AIDS Regional Training (CHART) Network, at the Accra Beach Hotel, Rockley, Christ Church.

Dr. St. John explained that while the introduction of Rapid Testing would present “significant challenges” for the island, Barbados would be receiving assistance in its implementation.

“The CDC and the Caribbean Epidemiology Center (CAREC) are providing the technical assistance and resources to introduce Rapid Testing in a manner that is scientifically sound and adheres to well established protocols,” she pointed out.

The Chief Medical Officer also stated that Barbados was still experiencing challenges in getting more people tested for HIV.

”People fail to be tested for obvious reasons, including the lack of access to HIV testing services, fear of stigma and discrimination, fear that the test will be positive, and a lack of access to treatment,” she observed.

Dr. St John, however, stressed that stigma and discrimination remained the “single greatest factor that impedes our ability to adequately address the HIV epidemic.

“It discourages people, especially those most at risk, from accessing services, including advice for prevention against HIV. For those people living with HIV, stigma and discrimination discourage them from accessing medical care and support services. It is easy to infer that, because of this avoidance of what can be of most help, transmission of HIV in the community is not being reduced to the lowest possible levels,” she observed.

Dr. St. John added that “the outcome of stigma and discrimination is that our communities suffer as a whole; not just those with the disease or those close to them, all of us suffer. It remains the biggest threat to the success of all our National HIV/AIDS programmes. We need to be strategic and aggressive in combating this valiant foe,” she urged.

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