Nov. 30, 2005 – "The Virgin Islands incidence of HIV rates per 100,000 is highest in the nation," Bruce Smail, the new executive director of the Virgin Islands Community AIDS Resource and Education (VICARE), said in a recent press release. "Our community must increase awareness and knowledge of HIV/AIDS, protect your negitave status, and support fellow Virgin Islanders who are living with HIV/AIDS."
This sobering statement comes as people all over the world, including people in the V.I., prepare to commemorate Worlds AIDS Day on Dec. 1. This year's theme, "Stop AIDS: Keep the Promise", challenges the population to hold the state and federal government accountable in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
"It's an issue we don't want to talk about, but we are sexual people," Smail said in an interview Wednesday. Smail, who was born on St. Croix, has been on the job for two months. He said he sees VICARE reaching out to more of the Latino population and women in the coming months. He said he would like to see HIV/AIDS prevention more prevalent in the schools.
"The Bush administration has cut funding for AIDS/HIV programs within the schools in favor of programs that push abstinence but students are having sex, and they need to know how to protect themselves," Smail said. It's all about protecting your negative status, he said.
Smail said figures from the V.I. Health Department as of October indicate there are 700 persons in the territory living with HIV or AIDS. In the Virgin Islands, HIV/AIDS statistics are collected by Health, which reports the data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Smail said the highest incidences of the disease are found in adults ages 30 to 39 (39 percent) and the next highest category is 20 to 29 (27 percent). Adults 49 and older make up 12 percent of persons living with the disease. "This is still a significant number," he said. Smail said research collected in the V.I. shows 23 percent contracted the disease through male to male sexual contact; 26 percent through heterosexual contact and 36 percent in other ways. People who do not want to disclose or don't know how they contracted the disease fall in to the "other" category, Smail said.
Smail said he has conducted several talks around the island on AIDS and HIV prevention. "The most popular question I get is if you can get AIDS or HIV if you are married," he said. "It's a question of how honest your partner is. It's a risky game."
Smail encourages everyone to be proactive and check your status by getting an HIV/AIDS test. "The earlier you know your status the more you can do to stay healthy."
In recognition of World AIDS day, groups across the territory are organizing events. Here are the St. Croix events:
Dec. 1 Candlelight March and Vigil beginning at 6 p.m. from the Christiansted Anglican Church to Fort Christiansvaern. A ceremony will follow to honor the many lives lost to AIDS.
Dec. 2 Health fairs will be conducted at the Williams Delight community center (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.) and at the VICARE offices at Vitraco Mall, Golden Rock, Christiansted (noon to 7 p.m.) There will be free HIV testing and counseling, safe sex materials and information, glucose and blood pressure screening, demonstrations and entertainment.
Dec. 3 The 11th annual AIDS Walk registration begins at 6:30 a.m. and the walk starts at 7:30 a.m. at the Lawaetz Museum in Mahogany Road in Frederiksted. Participants will follow a 5 mile loop through the rainforest beginning and ending at the museum. A minimum donation of $10 is requested and participants are also asked to collect pledges to raise additional funds.
On St. Thomas Thursday, a World AIDS Day annual Candlelight Vigil, Prayer and Healing Ceremony will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. in Emancipation Gardens.
On St. John Thursday, at 6 p.m. a World AIDS Day Interdenominational Candlelight Vigil will be held at Nazareth Lutheran Church.
A territory-wide moment of silence will be observed during the Candlelight Vigils on each island, as well as on participating local radio stations, to remember those lost to AIDS.
For more information call VICARE at 692-9111.
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