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Free testing offered during HIV Awareness Month

Islanders are being urged to be tested for HIV with free screenings being offered at the end of this month.

The initiative is to mark HIV Awareness Month, Health Minister Jeanne Atherden told the House of Assembly this morning.

The free, confidential and quick tests will be on offer at Hamilton Health Centre on Friday, June 27.

Minister Atherden said: “In many countries, HIV/AIDS awareness is the focus of an entire month and in Bermuda, June has been designated as HIV Awareness Month.”

She added that the month presented an opportunity to promote the vision of the United Nations AIDS campaign, ‘Getting down to Zero: Zero New Infections, Zero Discrimination, Zero Aids-related Deaths'.

“Given the preventable nature of HIV and advances in HIV/AIDS care, the Ministry believes that this vision is possible and encourages all persons to get tested, know their status and ‘have the conversation' — talk about HIV/AIDS and other sexual health matters.”

Minister Atherden told the House that more than 300 people live with or are affected by HIV in Bermuda.

“Since the emergence of HIV infection in Bermuda in the early 1980s, it is only in the last three years that there have been less than ten cases diagnosed annually,” she said.

“The last three years have also seen declines in the overall number of reported sexually transmitted infections. These trends need to continue.

“Last year, the Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit recorded seven new HIV diagnoses, three AIDS diagnoses and ten deaths among persons with HIV/AIDS.

“While the number of deaths may seem high, over half of these persons had been living with HIV for more than 20 years, which is a testament to improvements in treatment and the high standard of care available in Bermuda.”

But the Minister insisted that the Island could not risk becoming “complacent” about sexual health and highlighted that there was no cure for HIV — but it was preventable.

“The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organisation have recommended that screening for HIV infection should be performed routinely for all persons engaging in sexual behaviours,” Ms Atherden said.

“Over 90 percent of those diagnosed with HIV in Bermuda over the past five years were infected through sexual contact.

“On HIV Testing Day, the public is encouraged to get tested and to discuss the importance of HIV testing with their friends, family members, colleagues, healthcare providers.”

The Ministry is encouraging residents to show their support for the ‘Getting to Zero' vision by wearing red clothing and posting photos to social media using the hashtag RockRedBDA throughout this month.

Minister Atherden also revealed that funds for the STAR AIDS charity, which supports families affected by HIV and AIDS, were being raised by Bermuda's bakeries and cafes.

Crow Lane Bakery, Tribe Road Kitchen and Dockyard Pastry Shop are among the venues selling red-themed treats this month with part of the proceeds going to the non-profit.

A public forum on HIV and AIDS will be held on June 24 from 5.30pm to 7.30pm at the Bermuda Society of Arts at City Hall.

Panellists will include experts in patient care and a representative from STAR.

The guest speaker will be “inspirational” Marvelyn Brown, who will share her experiences of living with HIV.

Ms Brown, 30, author of memoir The Naked Truth: Young, Beautiful and HIV Positive, contracted HIV from her boyfriend at the age of 19.

Minister Atherden said the young American will discuss “how she manages to stay upbeat, inspired and more positive about life than ever”.

Ms Brown will also be present for the second hour of Not Just Another Book Club at the Bermuda National Library on Thursday, June 26, from 6pm to 8pm to discuss her memoir.

Minister Atherden said: “As we press toward the vision of Getting to Zero, we encourage the community to support the awareness activities and to have conversations with their healthcare providers about sexual health so that we continue the progress made in HIV prevention.”

Health Minister Jeanne Atherden. (Photo by Nicola Muirhead)

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Published June 13, 2014 at 1:04 pm (Updated June 13, 2014 at 1:04 pm)

Free testing offered during HIV Awareness Month

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