In a collaborative effort between the National HIV and AIDS Response Programme (NHARP) and the Dominica Planned Parenthood Association (PPA), a week of activities has been launched with a particular emphasis on men’s health. This initiative aims to raise awareness, encourage testing, and foster discussions about HIV and AIDS within various communities, including sports groups, civil service organisations, and social groups.
Speaking to Dominica News Online (DNO) Lester Guye, the Acting Coordinator of the National HIV and AIDS Response Unit, highlighted that one of the key events is a free testing day for men scheduled for Friday, November 24, at the PPA. In addition to testing, the association will be engaging with sports groups tomorrow- November 23-to
discuss men’s health, hoping to prompt males associated with these groups to prioritise testing and understanding their HIV status.
These activities are part of the lead-up to World AIDS Day (WAD) on December 1, celebrated under the theme “Let Communities Lead.” Guye clarified that this theme doesn’t solely refer to geographical communities but encompasses different communities, including sports groups, civil service organisations, social groups, and others where men are actively involved.
As part of the initiative, the PPA has invited the HIV and AIDS Unit to facilitate a symposium discussion on men and gender-based violence scheduled for the upcoming week at the Public Service Union.
“We are doing all this together to raise awareness and sensitise men about their health and taking care of themselves from a sexual perspective,” stated the health coordinator. Acknowledging historical trends, Guye pointed out that HIV prevalence has consistently been higher in men than women.
He attributed this to women being more proactive in engaging with healthcare systems and undergoing testing. However, despite more women undergoing testing, the number of positive cases remains higher in men here in Dominica. Other planned activities for this year’s WAD include radio discussions focusing on the socio-economic impact of HIV, addressing social determinants of health, and combating stigma and discrimination. These discussions aim to create a comfortable environment for individuals to seek testing and treatment without fear of judgement or discrimination.
“HIV is still an illness, you can only transmit through sexual activities and through exposure, and we are hoping that the general public and communities understand that it is their responsibility to treat every human being with dignity not infringing on their rights and not discriminating or stigmatising against them,” he asserted.
Guye also highlighted that in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, HIV testing rates have seen a significant dip over the past two years, creating a potential barrier to early detection and care. Another concern lies in individuals getting tested only when already at secondary healthcare facilities with advanced HIV-related illnesses.
Despite the lower testing volumes, Guye pointed out a positive aspect – individuals are still enrolling in care. As for those who don’t he says that they may be influenced by societal stigmas associated with being HIV positive.
“There is this fear which most persons have in terms of how it will affect their quality of life, and their functions within society. So again, this approach is not just a Ministry of Health centred approach, but it’s public health centre approach, where if people in the public have more information as to how HIV is transmitted, we strongly believe that the whole stigma and discrimination will be lessened because people understand the concept of transmission,” he stated.
An additional emphasis is being placed on promoting the concept of achieving viral suppression as a preventive measure. This approach aims to significantly lower the risk of transmission during sexual intercourse.
While advocating for the continued use of preventive measures such as condoms and lubricants, there’s a heightened focus on educating the public about the advantages of viral suppression in minimising transmission risks. In light of these efforts, the public is urged to actively engage, seek information, and ask the right questions.
On World AIDS Day itself, the team will continue behavioural change communication efforts, providing information on sexual health and advocating for healthy sexual practices. Testing will be available at the office, and individuals are encouraged to engage with health centres in various districts to learn about available plans.
Update: Due to a high number of requests, testing has also been extended to women and will take place from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.