Nov. 30, 2007 — In anticipation of World AIDS Day Dec. 1, the YWCA of the V.I. hosted Project HOPE at a Thursday evening workshop on women and HIV/AIDS at the Christ Church Methodist Education Complex on St. Thomas. Testing, monogamy and abstinence were cited as the best ways to prevent contracting and spreading the virus that causes AIDS.
Local YWCA (Young Women's Christian Association) President Donnalie Edwards-Cabey shared the program with Project HOPE Director Ivy Moses, who noted that the U.S. Virgin Islands is among the top five areas in the United States in cases per capita of HIV and AIDS. In addition, the Caribbean area ranks second only to sub-Saharan Africa in reported cases of HIV/AIDS.
The YWCA's 2007 World Council in Nairobi, Kenya, recently offered 10 critical actions for change:
1. Solidarity, support and leadership for women and girls, particularly those with HIV/AIDS;
2. Involving women and girls affected by HIV/AIDS in relevant decision-making processes;
3. Gender equality and education of those charged with the protection of women and girls;
4. Providing for the physical, sexual and psychological safety of women and girls;
5. Promoting sexual and reproductive rights including healthy safe sex practices;
6. Ensuring education, economic security, credit, and property rights for women and girls;
7. Supporting community testing and women and girls' access to these services;
8. Acknowledging contributing factors that are particular to culture and environment;
9. Providing the tools necessary for women and girls to act as leaders in responding to HIV/AIDS;
10. Ensuring that women and girls receive proper representation at all levels of the political realm.
Since 2004, Project HOPE has provided free, confidential HIV testing for over 1,800 persons in the Virgin Islands. Those who are newly infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome), tend to be more contagious, but early discovery, treatment and curtailing risky behaviors can keep the virus from spreading.
Sustained, monogamous relationships, with both parties testing negative for HIV, are also important. Many heterosexuals are becoming infected through outside relationships and serial sexual partners, then bringing HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases home to their spouses or mates.
Abstinence is the only method of avoiding the sexual transmission of the HIV virus via sexual contact.
Refusal to be tested, to remain faithful or practice abstinence guarantee the spread of HIV.
"Even after 25 years, the spread of the virus and the pandemic have not changed behavior in our community," Cabey said. "We are still as promiscuous as we've ever been. The conversation about protecting ourselves as women, girls, and men just isn't taking root."
Like their African sisters, V.I. wives, mothers, girlfriends and young girls are often reluctant to demand compliance with safer sex practices for fear of losing the companionship of their mates, or even domestic violence. Cabey believes that the solution lies in encouragement and support. "It's spreading the message that HIV is something that you can take control of. Your behavior determines whether you catch HIV or not, and the behavior of those who are closest to you," she said.
Renee Knight, a young YMCA member, presented Ivy Moses with an AIDS symbol bracelet from the Kenya summit, where she was a member of the delegation. "At first I didn't know what the organization (YMCA) was about," said Knight. As time went on, she was impressed with the global strength of the organization.
When asked to participate in the summit, she did not hesitate. "I seized the opportunity," she said. "But when I went to Africa, I was shocked. Plenty of people in Africa have AIDS. The world needs a wake-up call."
Knight is now excited about sharing what she has learned. The ongoing tragedy she witnessed in Africa has not diminished her feeling that she can make a difference here at home. "You have to have hope; without hope you can't do anything. I'm going to try to help educate my friends just educate."
Project HOPE Director Ivy Moses is very direct in discussing the responsibilities of those who choose to engage in sex. "We live in a society where practicing promiscuity and having multiple sex partners is accepted. Our fathers are making excuses for the men in our lives," she emphasized.
"There's a need to be outspoken. We are facing a serious pandemic here in the Virgin Islands. There's a lot of work to be done. We're hoping that working in conjunction with the Department of Health, the American Red Cross, and other organizations that do this kind of work that we can provide the type of support to provide the education for people in need to come in, get tested, informed and stop the spread of HIV/AIDS."
For more on World AIDS Day events, see "HIV/AIDS Week Events Planned Throughout Territory."
Project HOPE will also commemorate National Black AIDS Awareness Day (Feb. 7) and will host a Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Boat Ride featuring P'Your Passion (free testing offered – Mar. 10)
Those interested in volunteering for upcoming activities can call the YWCA at 774-7755 or 626-9804 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.worldywca.info.
. To contact Project HOPE, phone 777-1611, email email@example.com or visit www.worldywca.info.
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