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AIDS Status Cards Offer Reassurance and a Possible Prize

June 3, 2008 — It's the size of a credit card, so it fits discreetly in your wallet. And if it's not a sign of modern times, nothing is. The card is something you reach for at that moment of truth, to flash in front of your paramour, so he or she can be assured that you've been tested for HIV/AIDS.
"We got the idea from kids," said Ivy Moses, chuckling. She's the chief executive officer of HOPE Inc., a St. Thomas-based organization dedicated to helping individuals with HIV/AIDS. "We've spoken to CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and they've said they don't know any other agency that has the status cards."
HOPE has issued some 700 cards this year, and the organization is hoping hundreds more teenagers across St. Thomas and St. John will carry those cards by the end of June. HOPE, which stands for Helping Others in a Positive Environment, is launching a campaign to encourage teens especially — but anyone willing — to get a 20-minute rapid HIV/AIDS test that will offer some reassurance that they do not have the deadly disease.
Beginning June 8, which is National Caribbean HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, and running through June 27, which is National HIV Testing Day, eligible young people who take the test can enter a raffle.
HOPE will give a free one-way ticket to a 2008 high school graduate entering a college or trade school off-island during the upcoming fall semester. Graduating high school students attending the fall semester at the University of the Virgin Islands can enter to win a semester's worth of college text books.
To enter the raffle, students must show proof of getting tested for HIV within the past two months or take the HIV test and receive results between June 8 and 27. And students must show their school IDs.
Why the focus on teens? Unfortunately, Moses said, the need is tremendous. Ranking second to Sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean remains the region most affected by HIV in the Western Hemisphere.
"We have very high rates of teenagers who are sexually active before the age of 13," Moses said. "A high percentage of students said they had more than four sex partners before graduation (from high school)."
The statistics come from a Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted by the Department of Health in 2007, Moses said.
"I think a lot of this behavior leads back to our culture, norms in the community," Moses said. "A lot of behavior adults have, the kids mimic."
Ultimately she would like to see HIV/AIDS testing become as routine as the annual dental appointment. But even having taken the test, which offers results in 20 minutes, that's no guarantee that you're out of the woods. Because the disease can take three months to manifest, you must either abstain from sex or use protection for three months to be truly certain.
Of the 700 tests performed so far this year, two individuals were found with the disease, Moses said.
Testing will take place:
— Every Tuesday and Thursday: Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center (STJ), 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
— Wednesday: Charlotte Amalie High School (STT), 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
— Thursday and Friday: Ivanna Eudora Kean High School (STT), 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
— June 27: University of the Virgin Islands (STT) Health Services Office: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
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