St. Croix, US Virgin Islands (June 22, 2020) This Saturday, June 27th, is National HIV Testing Day, and annual event to recognize the importance of regular testing for HIV and the early diagnosis of HIV. The theme for 2020 is the power of “Knowing” – knowing your HIV status, knowing your risk, knowing your HIV prevention options, and knowing your treatment options. Don’t guess your HIV status; know!
Before discussing this year’s events, we must take a moment to address the COVID-19 virus. COVID-19 has turned daily life world upside down and devastated the globe. If there is any good that can come out the pandemic, though, then maybe it can be increased empathy for people living with HIV and an increased awareness of the importance of testing. In the same way anyone can be at risk for COVID-19, anyone can get HIV. In the same way that the pandemic highlighted a need for accessible COVID-19 testing, we should recognize and take advantage of the wealth of resources we have for HIV testing today. In the USVI, anyone who wants a free HIV test can get it without an appointment. In the same way those diagnosed with COVID-19 have often struggled with societal and internal reactions of fear, despair, anger, or denial, so have those living HIV faced these emotional burdens and more.
COVID-19 has also propelled the title of the nation’s unsung health heroes to the forefront of national headlines: Disease Intervention Specialists (DIS) or Contact Tracers. In the Virgin Islands, DIS and Contact Tracers connect those diagnosed with or exposed to communicable diseases to medical and social resources. Whether you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, HIV, chlamydia, or another common communicable disease you can expect a confidential,
friendly call from a trained Department of Health professional to help you access the resources you need.
We now know more than ever about HIV. Unlike COVID-19, HIV does not spread through
casual contact. Neither does it spread through speaking, coughing, sharing food, or kissing.
Instead, HIV is spread through unprotected sexual intercourse, sharing needles, and from mother to child through childbirth and breastfeeding. There is no current cure for HIV, but treatment is very effective. In most cases, adhering to treatment as recommended will reduce the possibility of sexual transmission to zero, a fact highlighted by the common phrase, “Undetectable is Untransmittable.” We also have more ways to prevent HIV than ever before, including condoms and PrEP, a daily pill that prevents HIV.
We have the power to end HIV, and it is time we use it. That is why we are asking everyone to get tested, share their experiences, and share their knowledge. To avoid large crowds, the Department of Health Communicable Disease Division is encouraging you to get tested any day between Monday, June 22nd and Friday, June 26th at your preferred HIV testing location in recognition of National HIV Testing Day. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, please call in advance if possible so the facility you are attending can prepare for your visit. Then take a selfie or short video, tag it #340GettingtoZero and share it with @virginislandsDOH on Facebook on Saturday, June 27th.
Finally, we are working hard to integrate HIV testing into standard health care routines territory-wide, and we look forward to bringing you more news in the upcoming months on ways you can help with “340… Getting to Zero!” Spread the message to get tested. When it comes to HIV, the Virgin Islands are in the know. Together, we can end HIV.