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11 People Living with HIV on Montserrat, Health Promotion Encourages Safe Sex Ahead of Carnival Season

As Montserrat joins the observance of World AIDS Day on December 1, Health Promotion Coordinator Mrs Penny Maloney is encouraging residents and visitors to practice safe sex as we get closer to the carnival festivities.

Maloney was speaking to Director of Information and Communication Mrs Viona Alexander-Smith on what her unit, which is part of the Ministry of Health and Social Services, would be doing this month to spread the message.

The coordinator also disclosed during the interview that there are 11 registered people on island living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). If left untreated, HIV can progress to AIDS. Mrs. Maloney therefore emphasised that it is important for persons to access care and be treated. She further noted that the HIV positive persons here “are living happy, healthy and productive lives, are accessing treatment and are doing really well.”

She said no one has died from acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, more commonly known as AIDS, here since 1999 and there are currently no residents on record as living with the disease.

Montserrat has a test and treat policy, which provides free medicines and treatment for anyone on island who has contracted the virus or living with full blown AIDS, the health official noted. She added that the ministry’s  medications are up to current standards and there is always in stock.

The Health Promotions Unit will be on The Morning Show with Basil Chambers on Monday morning. Later in the day there will be a mass condom distribution across the island. The unit routinely provides free condoms to local bars and public spaces. They are also available at no cost from all of the health centres on island. Maloney revealed that people can also access free condoms late at night from the Casualty Department at Glendon Hospital.

The unit also plans to launch a Choose Safe Sex social media campaign targeted at young people. The coordinator said this is part of a continued education effort to end the spread of the disease by 2030. The aim is that there are no new infections going forward.

Ministry of Health records show that there were two new HIV infections recorded in 2018. The 2019 figures have not yet been tabulated. It is possible that there are others with the virus but they have chosen to be tested and receive treatment abroad. Maloney said the most important thing is that people are tested and receive treatment.

While the focus of World AIDS Day is on HIV/AIDS, it was noted that there are other sexually transmitted diseases/infections which are observed here by the Ministry of Health. These include gonorrhea, syphilis, hepatitis, and chlamydia, which is the most common STI worldwide. It is possible to be tested at the hospital and also at D.R. Diagnostics.

The coordinator pointed out that STIs are sometimes more prevalent around peak periods of the year, such as festival periods. She shared that this may be due to and increase in alcohol consumption during those times, which can impact on the decision making process. “So you’ll find around very prominent festivals, like St. Patrick’s and our December Festival, that a few weeks later we’ll start to see a couple more cases than normal…so we do have to pay extra attention at this point in time,” stated Mrs. Maloney.

She said the Ministry ensures that revellers and party goers have access to condoms by delivering packages to event organisers and promoters, and stocking bars in the festival locations. However, Mrs. Maloney said even with all of these efforts to increase access to condoms, the responsibility to actually use the condoms, rest with the individuals.

The Ministry will be engaging in heightened awareness activities in the coming days and weeks. The theme for this year’s observance of World AIDS Day is ‘Communities make the difference’.

Watch the full interview here.