Nov. 25, 2003 Five people worldwide die of AIDS every minute of every day. HIV has hit every corner of the globe, infecting more than 42 million men, women and children five million of them last year alone.
In the Virgin Islands, the situation is not much different. According to Carolyn Forno, executive director of VICARE, HIV/AIDS is having a serious impact on the community.
"There are 35 new cases this year in the Virgin Islands" she said. "We have 500 persons presently living with AIDS in the territory and we have had 300 fatalities.
"In a population of 100,000, those are very alarming numbers," she said.
VICARE was founded in 1994 and provides HIV prevention and education outreach through a four-year grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"What people need to know," Forno said, "is that HIV/AIDS is 100-percent preventable."
HIV/AIDS is spread in three ways, she said: by having unsafe sex, by sharing needles and by a mother passing the virus to her child.
World AIDS Day will be observed in the territory with special events throughout the week and culminating Monday on St. Croix with a candlelight march beginning at 6:30 p.m. from the VICARE offices at 16-17 King Street in Christiansted to the waterfront.
World AIDS Day is a way to increase awareness on the impact of HIV/AIDS in the Virgin Islands and around the globe. The local committee is asking the community to participate in all the activities planned locally. The theme this year is "Stigma and Discriminating: Live and Let Live."
Forno explained the theme is very relevant in a small community like the Virgin Islands. She says the stigma associated with the disease prevents people from taking the tests, and that prevents treatment.
"More people need to admit they are HIV-positive or have the AIDS virus; more people need to be willing to be tested," Forno said. With every person who stands up, takes the test and admits they have the virus, the stigma decreases, she said.
As part of the observance of World AIDS Day, VICARE has invited an HIV-positive 17-year-old youth from Florida to speak to students at the local high schools. "Because of confidentiality we do not want to revel the young man's name beforehand," Forno said.
VICARE has several youth-outreach programs, including a six-week HIV-education curriculum in the schools and youth organizations, a peer-education program and the Youth Rehabilitation Center Theater Program, an HIV-prevention program using theater and the arts at the YRC.
St. Croix events planned around this year's AIDS Day include:
Saturday: Poetry reading, 7-9 p.m., Blue Moon Cafe in Frederiksted.
Monday: Candlelight march and vigil, 6:30 p.m., beginning at 16-17 King Street and proceeding to the waterfront.
Dec. 3: World AIDS Day school art contest and reception, 4-5:30 p.m., Sunshine Mall, Frederiksted. Artwork will be displayed through Dec. 6.
Dec. 6: annual AIDS Walk-a-Thon, 7-10 a.m. Five miles through the rainforest beginning and ending at the Lawaetz Museum on Mahogany Road in Frederiksted ($10 minimum pledge).
Dec. 6: Health fair 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Sunshine Mall. Free HIV testing and counseling, safe-sex materials and information, glucose screening, blood-pressure screening, kids' corner, demonstrations, T-shirts and entertainment.
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