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Education, Checkups Keys In Fight Against AIDS

Dec. 2, 2005 – Takiyah Antoine arrived at the Williams Delight Community Center shortly after the Department of Health began its free medical screening on Friday in commemoration of World Aids Day to get her yearly AIDS/HIV test. "I usually do it every year," she said, smiling brightly. "I have to protect my self." Antoine, 30, has been married for seven years and admits she's had "problems with her husband in the past." She advises everyone to get regular testing whether they are single or married. "You never know," she said.
The V.I. Community AIDS Resource and Education (VICARE) and the Department of Health teamed up on Friday to present free screening clinics to St. Croix residents. In Christiansted the clinic was held at the VICARE offices in Vitraco Mall in Golden Rock. In addition to private AIDS/HIV testing and counseling; blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol testing was done at the events. Most importantly, health care professionals answered questions about how the disease is transmitted; emphasizing that no one is safe without adequate protection.
Misconceptions and the Social impact of AIDS/HIV
According to VICARE officials, despite an abundance of information regarding AIDS and HIV, many people still either don't care or have misconceptions about how the disease is contracted.
"Most people feel it can't happen to them, they are not aware about how easily they can be infected," Carmen L. George, VICARE interim director said. Although unprotected sex is the main cause George said AIDS/HIV can be contracted by kissing if one of the people have an open sore or cut in their mouth. "If you bite you tongue or the inside of your cheek and exchange a kiss the disease can be transmitted through the blood and saliva," she said.
In an interview Wednesday with Bruce A. Smail, VICARE's new executive director, said the most popular question he gets during his community talks on AIDS and HIV is if one could get the disease while they are married. "It's a question of how honest your partner is," he replied. "It's a risky game." (See " World AIDS Day Marked in the V.I. by Statistics, Vigils, Health Fairs and Walks ").
The pregnancy rate among teenagers show that teens are not taking it seriously, George said, "They are having unprotected sex." George said about 850 Virgin Islands residents are living with the disease.
George said that lack of respect for people in relationships also leads to increasing AIDS/HIV rates. "Women know their partners have other sexual relationships and children see their single mothers with multiple partners," George said. "It happens all over. What about Thomas Jefferson and former president Bill Clinton?"
"It's not only men who are at fault," George said. "A lot of married and unmarried women are promiscuous and a lot of women and men are on the 'down low.'" Being on the "down low" refers to men women who secretly have same-sex relationships. "Our community is small and it's more noticeable," she said. "Everyone is bringing the disease."
Reducing the Stigma
"We cannot target one segment of the population, HIV/AIDS doesn't discriminate," Jason Henry DOH AIDS/HIV territorial coordinator said. "Everyone has the responsibility to prevent the disease."
Henry said when people point fingers and say HIV/Aids only affects homosexuals it creates a stigma and hinders people from getting tested.
He said parents need to be more open to their children when discussing sex. "We are afraid to mention the word sex with our children," he said. "But parents have to tell their kids about the risks. Sex can't 'just happen.'"
Henry said trust is a big issue with married and committed couples. If the woman wants to use a condom the man may say, "Why, don't you trust me?"
"Some people think after you get married that's it. This community accepts that married men have affairs. You have to protect yourself." He advocated getting tested along with your yearly physical check-up.
Research collected in the Virgin Islands shows of the number infected with AIDS/HIV 23 percent contracted the disease through male-to-male sexual contact; 26 percent through heterosexual contact and 36 percent in other ways. People who do not want to disclose or don't know how they contracted the disease fall in to the "other" category, which may include woman-to-woman sexual contact and injection drug use.
Henry says the stigma is one of the reasons why the health screenings include tests for other health problems such as high blood pressure. "People can come in and get their pressure and sugar tested and say I'll get an Aids/HIV test too."
For more information on AIDS/HIV call VICARE at 692-9111.
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