Dr. Joy St. John (Image: www.nationnews.com)

Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Joy St. John, has expressed great disappointment at “the seemingly poor understanding of issues pertaining to HIV/AIDS and People Living with HIV (PLHIV) in Barbados”.

“Recent statements made and media reports reflect a lack of knowledge and clear understanding of HIV and a failure to respect the privacy of persons infected (or believed to be infected) with and affected by  HIV,” said Dr. St. John.

She added: “Such irresponsible statements have the tendency to impede the national effort to eliminate HIV-related stigma and discrimination. The statements are unfortunate as they potentially propagate stigma, therefore, PLHIV and persons in the wider populace may become less willing to access HIV prevention and care services, including getting tested for HIV”.

Dr. St. John also reminded the public that the Ministry of Health regarded patient information with utmost confidentiality.

She said: “It is imperative that Barbados adheres to policies of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) regarding the code of practice related to HIV/AIDS in the work place.”

The ILO states: “In the spirit of decent work and respect for the human rights and dignity of persons infected or affected by HIV/AIDS, there should be no discrimination against workers on the basis of real or perceived HIV status. Discrimination and stigmatization of people living with HIV inhibits efforts aimed at promoting HIV/AIDS prevention.”

HIV is a sexually transmitted infection requiring intimate contact for transmission such as unprotected sexual intercourse. HIV cannot be contracted by casual contact in a workplace or any other environment. Healthcare professionals employ universal precautions and infection control practices which protect both their patients and themselves.

The Chief Medical Officer noted that the recent public debate about nurses possibly being HIV Positive was extremely disappointing and stressed, “Such debate is completely unwarranted as it attempts to invade the privacy of individuals.”

While stating that all nurses at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital provided an invaluable service to the public, Dr. St. John noted, “Their contribution to health care in Barbados is greatly appreciated and the statements made in the media discriminate against persons living with HIV thus hampering our efforts to effectively address HIV as a major public health issue.”

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