Statistics show national HIV testing reducing spread of virus, stigma

Health Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy lauded companies for their active participation in the National Week of Testing for HIV saying they demonstrate the take charge attitude the country has adopted in its fight against the virus.

Ramsammy made these comments on Wednesday while engaging members of the Guyana Business Coalition (GBC) at their office at Orange Walk, Bourda. In addition to being one of the testing sites, members of the GBC took the lead and got tested, a press release from the Government Information Agency (GINA) said. The minister lauded the initiative, saying “the fact that I could walk around on a day like this and join senior members of corporate entities of our country; join ministers of government to get tested shows that we take knowing our HIV status seriously.”

Dr Leslie Ramsammy

Earlier in the day, Ramsammy visited several government offices and businesses, including the Local Government and Amerindian Affairs ministries, to engage employees who had also agreed to get tested in the presence of the minister. “When a country can demonstrate that all its stakeholders are taking responsibility for a challenge that they confront on a daily basis, then that country can be reasonably assured that we will win that battle,” he said. He also noted that the amount of testing that is done during the week of testing is “phenomenal and speaks to the country’s awareness of the epidemic.”
According to GINA, 35,771 people got tested last year during the National Week of Testing. This year, the ministry hopes to exceed 36,000 and, to facilitate this, it has created 218 temporary testing sites and 78 fixed sites in addition to sites at several private sector companies at strategic locations countrywide. To date, about 8,000 persons have been tested.

Ramsammy said the ministry has recorded significant success in its fight against the virus. “When you look at the last decade and the improvement that we have made and the improving statistics then you know we are winning the battle,” he said. He noted too that before the ministry had taken an aggressive approach to fight the spread of the disease, Guyana used to record 150-200 children being born with HIV. That number has now dropped to about four to six babies, he added.
Less than 150 persons per year die from the virus and the number of new AIDS cases has dropped from 400-500 annually to 24-40. “These figures best demonstrate how far we have come,” Ramsammy said, adding that the statistics tell the phenomenal success story of the country’s battle against the virus.

The minister then heaped praise on the members of the GBC and the business community for their active participation in testing. “When all is said and done what we do in business is about making people’s lives better and we cannot make people’s lives better by just having successful businesses we can only make people’s lives better if people are healthy,” he added.

GBC Chairman David Bhola said the members volunteered to be tested to set an example for others to follow. Members are also working at various locations that have set up testing sites and they are also helping with the testing.

According to GINA, Programme Manager of the National AIDS Programme Secretariat, Dr Shanti Singh accompanied Ramsammy on his visit to testing sites. This year, National Week of Testing is being observed under the theme “Confidential and reliable, get tested now.”  The initiative was birthed in 2006 and is held annually to encourage the public to know their HIV status and help erase stigma attached to getting tested.

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