Efforts to better understand and address issues related to HIV were strengthened yesterday, with the launch of a Virtual HIV Research Unit (VHRU), at the National HIV/AIDS Commission???s (NHAC), Warrens Office Complex.

Comprising 5,000 scientific publications and reports on HIV in Barbados and the Caribbean, the VHRU will be accessible to researchers, students, Non-Governmental Organisations and others through the www.hivgateway.com portal.

Addressing an audience of stakeholders, which included Minister of Health, John Boyce, and Chair of the NHAC Research Committee, Professor Clive Landis, Social Care Minister, Steve Blackett, noted that the establishment of the VHRU was a step in the right direction.

He said: ???Barbados continues to be on par with other developed and developing nations in its HIV information gathering, monitoring and evaluating and compiling of journals on the successes we continue to attain???. He added that the country would ???push forward??? in its national response towards attaining an HIV-free generation by the year 2018.?????We know that this is an achievable goal,??? he asserted.

Making the observation that the VHRU would also be used in other capacities, Mr. Blackett said that the tool would assist ???with the coordination of research programmes of the Ministry of Health, NHAC and other relevant research pursued nationally relating to HIV in Barbados and the Caribbean. The VHRU is equipped with visual and intuitive search tools that will make learning about HIV ??????

Noting that the website would complement another tech-based NHAC initiative, namely the free HIV Explained app, which is available for download on both Android and Apple platforms, Minister Blackett described the VHRU???s arrival as a timely one, which coincided with the beginning of government???s five-year National Strategic Plan for HIV. It aims for zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths by 2018.

During his presentation of the website, Professor Landis thanked the Ministries of Social Care and Health, as well as the University of the West Indies, for their contributions to the endeavour. In addition, he observed that ???this tool provides empowerment to the community for anyone who is curious about HIV and wants to know the facts and not the myths???

???When I joined the NHAC as Chairman in 2011???we felt there was a clear lack of research capacity???We also noted quite significant gaps in behavioural research???and the barriers to seeking care. We do feel there are a lot of barriers ?????fear, stigma, discrimination ??? that are preventing persons with HIV from accessing the wonderful care that we have on the island,??? he said, adding that there was also a need to communicate research among peers, to the public and to translate it into policy.

Professor Landis noted that, while it was previously presumed that certain risk factors increased the likelihood of contracting HIV, the VHRU could now offer conclusive research on how ???bashment culture??? and intergenerational sex, i.e. sex between young girls and old men, impacted HIV infections.

???[In one national study] we identified high rates of intergenerational sex [in Barbados], and we are in a high income country [according to the World Bank]???I think the assumption was that intergenerational sex was driven by poverty???we did not find that, even though it [the study] was carried out during a recession,??? he said, adding that issues such as low self-esteem and being coerced into sex also contributed to the issue.

The HIV Gateway was created by the National HIV/AIDS Commission of Barbados, with financial assistance from the World Bank.


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