July 16, 2006 – After spending two years in rented quarters at Vitraco Mall in Golden Rock, VICARE (Virgin Islands Community Aids Resource & Education) is moving to its own building at 43 Queen Street in Christiansted.
"We're hoping by September. It's very exciting," VICARE Director Bruce Smail said.
Dedicated to advocacy on HIV/AIDS issues, the organization received $210,000 in U.S. Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grant money, which was almost enough to pay for the $220,000 building. Smail said the organization generated the rest of the money through fund-raising.
VICARE got its start way back in 1994 as a grassroots organization with events like candlelight vigils and walks. In 2000, when federal grant money became available, the organization hired its first director, Carolyn Forno. Smail replaced Forno about a year ago. The organization has a staff of 12.
The organization runs numerous programs focusing on HIV prevention, as well as support and care for people living with HIV/AIDS.
It also provides free HIV testing from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday and Friday and 1 to 6 p.m. on Wednesday.
"You don't need an appointment," Smail said.
He said that VICARE uses the OraSure method of testing. Instead of a blood test, a simple swab of one's gums is all that's required. Smail said it takes about a week to get the results.
He said that one person out of the 341 tested by VICARE in the past year had a positive result. However, he cautioned that this number doesn't begin to address how prevalent the problem is in the Virgin Islands because numerous organizations and agencies also offer testing.
"We have the highest rate of HIV per capita in the United States and the third-highest rate of AIDS in the United States," Smail said.
He qualified his remarks, though, by noting that a new method of recording data means that only 32 states and three territories are included on the list because the remaining states have switched over.
However, he said the AIDS data includes all states and territories.
He said he thinks that the situation is getting worse in the Virgin Islands.
Smail forwarded V.I. Health Department statistics that showed 277 people tested positive for the HIV virus since the agency began keeping statistics in 1990. Six of them were children. Twenty-seven of the adults have died.
Those statistics show that for men, 25 percent contacted the disease through heterosexual contact, 22 percent through male-to-male sexual contact, 11 percent by injecting drugs, and 2 percent through men having sex with men as well as injecting drugs, and another 2 percent through blood transfusions.
For women, 46 percent got the disease through heterosexual contact, 6 percent by injecting drugs and 2 percent from blood transfusions.
That leaves a large percentage — 37 percent of men and 47 percent of women — who don't know how they got the disease.
Smail is very concerned about these numbers. "We have to address how women are getting HIV," he said.
He said this calls for open discussion about the problem, as well as more widespread testing.
"There's a lot of denial here," he said.
For more information, call VICARE at 692-9111 or visit its Web site.
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