Dec. 1, 2004 Few turned out Wednesday night for a candlelight vigil held at Emancipation Garden in recognition of World AIDS Day. It appeared most were either involved in the event's organization or on the roster of performers and speakers.
Since 1983, 839 Virgin Islanders have contracted HIV, according to the V.I. Health Department. So far, even with the availability of more effective treatment, 300 have succumbed to the opportunistic diseases associated with the syndrome.
Still, fewer than a dozen residents gathered around the park's bandstand to light candles in observance of the lives this disease has taken from the territory.
Delegate Donna M. Christensen, the events keynote speaker, likened the absence of community involvement to a kind of deafness, pointing out that now "women are paying the price for the worlds refusal to hear."
The American Red Cross of the Virgin Islands joined other groups around the world in dedicating this year's event to women and girls. According to the 2004 UNAIDS Report the number of women living with HIV has increased in every measured region since 2002. In May a national report listed the Virgin Islands fourth in terms of new HIV infections among U.S. states and territories.
Taetia Phillips-Dorsett, director of the territory's STD/HIV/TB Program, said that locally the number of new infections among women and girls appears to be on the rise, with females now accounting for close to 47 percent of all HIV infections in the territory.
The infection rate in the Hispanic community is of particular concern. Phillips-Dorsett said that while the group accounts for only 14 percent of the population, Hispanics represent 24 percent of the territory's HIV infections.
Despite the poor turnout, those who participated in the event seemed optimistic. Alexandra Lake-Fuentes, a health educator with HOPE (Helping Others in a Positive Environment), said the group administered eight free HIV tests.
Standing in front of table full of informational brochures and distributing packages filled with male and female condoms with instructions on how to use them Lake-Fuentes smiled and said, "we didn't really expect more than this."
Also on hand, giving out information and ready smiles, were Red Cross staff and representatives of Balm in Gilead, an organization that helps to educate church leaders of all denominations on how to deal with the AIDS epidemic.
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