Oct. 11, 2002 The Virgin Islands will join with the rest of the world in commemorating World AIDS Day on Dec. 1.
Since record keeping began in 1983, 512 people have contracted AIDS and 228 people reported they were HIV positive, according to Patricia Odoms, chairwoman of the World AIDS Day Committee and co-chairwoman of the St. Thomas/St. John HIV Community Planning Committee.
She said that 50 percent of those with AIDS are still alive, and 93 percent of the 228 people are still living with HIV.
"The rate is increasing in the older, over-50 population," Odoms said.
This year's theme is "Live and Let Live." It was chosen in an effort to break the silence and barriers that get in the way of AIDS/HIV prevention and care.
According to a United Nations committee, people who have AIDS may be denied health care services, housing and employment. They may be shunned by friends and colleagues, turned down by insurance companies or refused entry into foreign countries.
Odoms said that many of these same conditions exist in the territory.
She said that it's culturally acceptable to have multiple sexual partners, and many men are gay or bisexual or frequent brothels, all situations that can spread AIDS and HIV. "And the heavy use of alcohol loosens judgment and behavior," Odoms said.
She said the problems start when teens get sexually transmitted diseases. This lowers the immune system, which subsequently leaves them susceptible to AIDS and HIV.
Odoms said that domestic violence also contributes to the problem because women are afraid they will be beaten if they demand their partners wear a condom.
And the stigma associated with having AIDS or HIV prevents people from getting adequate treatment.
"Lots of people go off-island for treatment and come home to die," Odoms said.
While final plans for World AIDS Day are still in the works, AIDS testing will be available at Juan F. Luis Hospital in St. Croix for the staff and public during the week leading up to Dec. 1. Testing will also be done at various companies. St. Croix will also be the scene of a red ribbon marathon race.
An educational video will be shown on Cable TV Channel 5, an AIDS quilt will be on display on St. Croix to remember those who died of the disease, and an art contest will be held for elementary, middle and senior high school students.
In St. Thomas/St. John plans include HIV/AIDS testing at a mobile van, which will call at various locations during the week leading up to Dec. 1.
The World AIDS Day Committee hopes to reach people through churches and religious programming by supplying information to be used during Dec. 1 church services.
The World AIDS Day Committee consists of members of the Health and Education Departments as well as people from community organizations and community advocates.
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