Minister of Health, Dr. David Estwick
Government is currently finalising its Draft Policy on HIV testing for Barbados.
This disclosure has come from Minister of Health, Dr. David Estwick, who said the aim of the policy was not only to increase the uptake of HIV testing services, but also to standardise how HIV testing was done throughout this country’s entire health sector.
His comments were made today at Hilton Barbados where he addressed the launch of the Caribbean Broadcast Media Partnership on HIV/AIDS and the Scotiabank Caribbean East’s Regional HIV Testing Day on June 27, which will coincide with International HIV Testing Day.
Dr. Estwick told the gathering: “Testing for HIV is regarded as a crucial HIV-prevention intervention. Studies illustrate that when people learn of their HIV status early, they can access HIV treatment and care services offered in Barbados and potentially achieve better outcomes by averting ill health… “This Government will be upping the ante regarding HIV prevention by attempting to influence a change in attitudes and behaviours at all levels. Increasing access to HIV testing and encouraging persons to be tested for HIV are some of the means through which the Ministry of Health is seeking to accelerate national prevention efforts to reduce and control the spread of HIV in Barbados.”
According to him, when government assumed office four months ago, it was fully aware that addressing the issues of the HIV epidemic here needed to be high on the health agenda, especially since success had been limited despite many efforts at the global, regional and national levels to mitigate its impact.
Statistics, he said, showed that there were over 33 million people in the world living with HIV. He added that information from UNAIDS revealed that over two million people became infected with the virus last year, while a similar number died.
“There would seem to be no stopping this disease. What can we do in the face of such overwhelming odds? We have to continue pursuing new means to reduce the incidence of the HIV disease. The Government of Barbados has committed itself to intensifying the campaign to stop the spread of HIV. All Barbadians must also be committed to reducing the spread of HIV,” Dr. Estwick stated.
In her remarks, Minister of Family, Youth, Sports and the Environment, Dr. Esther Byer-Suckoo, said voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) was crucial because it was important that everyone knew his or her status and openly discussed it.
She stated that since Government’s National Strategic Plan for HIV Prevention And Control (2008-2013) was debated in the House of Assembly last Tuesday, there had been much welcomed public discussion on the subject. “We’ve been getting a lot of comments about it and that’s one of the things we wanted… We really want to provide another opportunity for the public to start talking about it,” she told the audience.
She also noted that the island had come a long way in terms of being informed and educated about HIV/AIDS and that the media had played a great part. “People have had a lot of information, but how do they internalise that and how does that translate to behavioural changes. That is what my challenge is going to be and I put it to you that that is what our challenge will be.
“We have to encourage behavioural change in all sectors of our society – in the young and in the old …From a medical perspective, it is something that the old people need to be encouraged to talk about. Yes, we don’t want to think about the elderly being engaged in such a practice, but they are and that is another stigma that we have to address; because they need to be able to come out and say to their doctor or a trusted friend how do I know that I am HIV positive?” the Minister said.
She added that the Regional Testing Day was important as Barbados stepped up a notch in its response to HIV/AIDS, noting that the disease had the potential to totally cripple the society.