The V.I. Health Department will hold a ceremony on St. Croix and offer free HIV testing on St. Thomas on Friday to mark the 35th observance of World AIDS Day and to show solidarity with the global community’s commitment to end the HIV epidemic by 2030.
This day serves as a poignant reminder of the ongoing global struggle against HIV-related stigma, honoring those lost, and a call to action to strive for a future where HIV is no longer a public health threat, the department said in a press release.
Jason Henry, director of the department’s Communicable Diseases Division, emphasized the overarching theme, “340 Getting to Zero,” as a rallying cry for both public health professionals and the community to steadfastly work towards ending the HIV epidemic by 2030.
“Our annual day of remembrance is an opportunity to address HIV-related stigma, pay tribute to those we have lost, and galvanize efforts to achieve a day when HIV is no longer a public health threat,” Henry said.
The Communicable Diseases Division is dedicated to achieving the 90-90-90 targets: ensuring 90 percent of people living with HIV know their status, 90 percent of those aware of their HIV-positive status receive treatment, and 90 percent of individuals on treatment achieve viral suppression, the release stated.
“While progress has been made in addressing HIV and AIDS in the Virgin Islands, there is still work to be done to ensure equity for all,” said Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion. “The Communicable Disease Division is committed to providing comprehensive care, ensuring everyone in the Territory with HIV/AIDS has access to treatment, leading to an undetectable viral load and making HIV un-transmittable.”
As of 2023, data indicates that 822 individuals in the Virgin Islands have been diagnosed with HIV and AIDS.
To observe World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, the Communicable Diseases Division has organized the following events:
On St. Croix
A “Remembering Those We Lost” Ceremony will be held at 9 a.m. at the former Dial Rent to Own Building in Sunny Isles, in collaboration with Frederiksted Health Care.
On Saturday, the department will distribute free HIV self-test kits at the Crucian Cultural Group’s Mobile Night Parade.
On St. Thomas
Free HIV testing will be available from noon to 7 p.m. at “The Market” Tutu Park Mall.
The events precede the second annual HIV/Sexually Transmitted Infections Summit set for Dec. 7-8 at the Westin Beach Resort and Spa at Frenchman’s Reef on St. Thomas.
Presenters will include representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Columbia University-Irving Medical Center, the Northeast/Caribbean AIDS Education and Training Center, University of Puerto Rico-School of Medicine and Centro Ararat, Inc., according to the release.
Plenary and breakout session topics include:
– Status Neutral Approach to HIV Prevention and Treatment
– Cultural Responsiveness and Access to Care
– Partner Services in the Virgin Islands
– Whole Person Care: What’s It All About?
– Cultivating Equitable Care
– Improved Health Outcomes
– Sexual Health Conversations to Promote Prevention
– Models for HIV Testing: Getting Beyond 14 percent
– Gender Affirming Care
– HIV and Women
This summit brings together medical professionals and public health workers to collaborate on continuing the work to end the HIV epidemic in the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to the release. It aims to develop strategies for prevention, reducing stigma, enhancing workforce effectiveness, and synchronization with the STI program to end the HIV epidemic.