The first worldwide reported case of HIV/AIDS was 1981. Twenty eight years later the first case was reported locally.
Geoffrey Benjamin, Senior Biomedical Scientist at the hospital, told me since then, patients who have been tested for the virus have all received positive news; a negative HIV result. He confirmed there are currently no known cases of the virus.
In 2012, Health & Social Welfare directorate has performed 226 HIV tests. A high percentage of the tests are on the blood work of donors and on pregnant women which is done routinely, and with the patient’s consent. However, a high percentage of the population goes untested and the question of whether there are those among us who are unknowingly living with HIV remains.
In the week leading up to 1 December, World AIDS Day, teachers at Prince Andrew School have being raising awareness of HIV and AIDS in their ‘life studies’ lessons. “We will introduce children to the definition of HIV and AIDS, how it is transmitted and prevention” said Cheryl Bedwell, the school’s Personal, Social, Health and Citizenship Education Coordinator. “All students at Prince Andrew School will have lessons on HIV/AIDS throughout the year as part of their Sex & Relationships Education programme. We also discuss our attitudes and behaviours towards HIV & AIDS, addressing stigma and discrimination. Every year we have an assembly and we try to make it a bit different to the year before. This year I will actually be looking at some life stories of people living with HIV. We will go through what they can remember first from last year’s assembly as a quiz and give them small rewards for this. Students have been selected to tell the life stories of people living with HIV.” Geoff Benjamin will also be a part of Friday’s assembly to help promote the theme of ‘know your status’.
“One of the objectives we talked about in our Sexual Health Strategy Management Group is to have a Sexual Health and Reproductive clinic for young people,” said Cheryl. “It didn’t come off, we didn’t have enough resources at that time. Personally and for others in the group, we would still love to see that happen so young people would have somewhere to go about all health matters, just for themselves.”
A small group of students at PAS gave a mixed response when I asked, would they take an HIV/AIDS test? One commented, “I would want to, so I’m sure that I haven’t got it. Because it is better to be sure you’ve not got it than to think that you haven’t got it.”
A visit from a young woman called ‘MK’ made a lasting impression on the students I spoke to. She came to the island in 2009 with her story of how she was abused as a younger girl which resulted in her contracting the virus. The student commented, “I thought the talk that MK gave was good. She had HIV and she told us what she went through and it gave me a different perspective. Usually I would have thought that someone with HIV would be down and out and that they wouldn’t want to talk about it. She didn’t mind everyone was listening. She just wanted to help everyone understand, that what she was going through wasn’t life changing or that it didn’t stop her from living her life the way she wanted to.”
In the spirit of World Aids Day, on 1 December, I went to the visit Geoff Benjamin at the hospital, who took me through the testing procedure. “We try to encourage people to come and do the test. It this is quite an expensive test,” Geoff remarked. Each self contained test, costs the department £7.50, before shipping and import. Despite this, being tested for HIV/AIDS is provided as a free service for the community. Geoff said they use the ‘insti’ test, which was recommended as the best option, it comes pre-sterilised and is meant for a single use only. “The ‘insti’ test detects anti bodies of HIV one and two,” said Geoff, as he removes the content from a white and maroon packet. “It’s a very simple test and very sensitive, it’s about 99.9% sensitive for HIV one and two.” He methodically arranged the content of the packet speaking to me as he would a patient. “In here we have a little membrane, a thing to prick your finger, there’s a swab, instructions and three little tubs,” Geoff explained. After a mere minute your result is known. Referring to the white membrane he continued, “If you get a strong reactive test you get two blue dots; one blue dot is the control line so we know the test is working. The second blue dot will give you the result; whether it’s positive or negative.” Two dots signify a positive result.
As he swabbed my finger he asked if I knew what a positive result would mean to me? If the result was positive what support systems I had and if I wanted to continue? As he asked the questions my confidence wavered and my nerves took over. “This is the reaction I get from all my patients,” assures Geoff. I went ahead and did the test. After a minute, to my relief, he confirms a negative result.
This report is taken from the Sentinel, 29 November 2012