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Health Department to Offer Free HIV Testing

To commemorate World AIDS Day, the V.I. Health Department is holding informational outreach sessions and several free HIV/AIDS testing clinics between now and the new year, according to the department.

World AIDS Day is observed Dec. 1 each year and is dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection. AIDS has killed more than 25 million people, with an estimated 38.6 million people living with HIV globally, making it one of the most destructive epidemics in recorded history.

Health has set a goal of zero new infections in 2012, and acting Health Commissioner Marc Jerome is urging residents to take advantage of the free tests.

Studies have shown that with improved treatment and care, people are now living longer with HIV/AIDS; however, in order to receive such lifesaving treatment, individuals must be sure to get tested and then take action if infected, according to a statement from the Health Department.

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"Knowing your HIV status is the best way to help win the fight against AIDS, and as acting Health commissioner, I urge everyone to take heed of this year’s campaign theme, Getting to Zero. It starts with each individual knowing their status,” Jerome said. “Our clinics are available for free and confidential rapid testing — anyone taking the test can know their status within minutes.”

Gov. John deJongh Jr. issued a World AIDS Day proclamation recently, noting that AIDS is one of the leading causes of death in many parts of the world.

“World AIDS Day is a day to remember those who have been lost to this deadly disease and to give compassion and hope to those who live courageously with HIV/AIDS every day,” deJongh said. “It is important that we continue to promote HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention in order to help prevent further spread of this disease."

The concept of a World AIDS Day originated at the 1988 World Summit of Ministers of Health on Programs for AIDS Prevention. Since then, it has been taken up by governments, international organizations and charities around the world.

Jerome said the Department of Health recently hired Dr. Tai C. Hunte, an infectious disease specialist, to provide full-time HIV/AIDS services for its STD/HIV/TB Program.

“We are happy to have her on board with this specialty, as this will enable us to continue to be more proactive in HIV/AIDS prevention in the community,” Jerome said.

Health Department HIV/AIDS testing and outreach this month:
— Nov. 30, HIV/AIDS Education/Testing Day in Emancipation Garden from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.;
— Dec. 1 – 30 there will be a display on exhibit 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the STD/HIV/TB Clinic, Knud Hansen Complex, St. Thomas and the lobby of Charles Harwood Medical Complex on St. Croix;
— Dec. 1, there will be an HIV/AIDs education day at Knud Hansen and Charles Complex from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Everyone is asked to wear red;
— Dec. 13, HIV/AIDS education outreach at Westin Hotel, St. John, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. — Dec. 16, HIV/AIDS education outreach at the V.I. Legislature and the Austin Babe Monsanto Marine Terminal (Crown Bay Center) from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
— Dec. 17, education outreach at Unity Sports Day in Emile Griffith Park from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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