The U.S. Virgin islands has the second highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rate for adults in the nation and outlying U.S. areas – finishing ahead of only Washington, D.C. in recent statistics – but officials at HOPE Inc. said Monday they are working to drastically reduce the numbers.
HOPE Inc, a local non-profit organization, has been working in the territory for the past 14 years, encouraging residents to get tested, know their status and report cases of infection. Knowing who has the virus can keep others from getting infected.
But right now, there are several undiagnosed cases out there, officials said.
According to the organization’s data manager, Kahaina Browne, there are currently six diagnosed AIDS cases locally, with 275 deaths from the virus to date, and while the numbers have pretty much remained stable since 2012, there are more people carrying the virus than the organization knows about, she said.
Browne has co-chaired the organization’s effort to help spread more awareness about the virus for World AIDS Day, which is observed annually on Dec. 1. A small ceremony Monday remembered residents who have died or are still battling the virus. At the event, the organization offered the same free HIV/AIDS, blood pressure and diabetes screenings that they make available all year round.
“Some may see World AIDS Day as a celebration, while others might see it as a time to remember those who have actually died from the virus or are still fighting the battle,” she said Monday. “Either way, it is always a good time for us to remind the public of their responsibility to know their status and report any cases they know of so that we can continue to monitor them and reduce the possibility of transmission.”
Balloons were released at Monday’s event, which was held across the street from Emancipation Garden, for victims of the virus, and a moment of silence was observed in their honor.
According to worldaidsday.org, there are currently an estimated 35.5 million people living with HIV across the world. Between 1981 and 2012, AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) 36 million people have died of AIDS-related causes worldwide.
The theme of this year’s World AIDS Day events is "Focus, Partner and Achieve: An AIDS-free generation," which officials have said underscores the need for governments, non-profits and citizens to advocate for AIDS prevention and treatment.