The Caribbean has the second highest rate of HIV infection in the world behind sub-Saharan Africa and 2018 has seen seven new cases right here in Cayman.
The virus still poses a threat, thirty years on from the height of the 80’s epidemic.
“When we talk about statistics it’s hard to say seven is alarming, we are a small population, but we always want to encourage people to get tested,” HIV and STI coordinator at the HSA Laura Elniski explained.
That 80’s stigma around the virus being solely a problem for the gay community lingers to this day, but Ms. Elniski said, in fact, 61% of cases in Cayman are among heterosexual people.
“Here in Cayman, regionally and globally, it is a heterosexual disease, so man to woman, woman to man. Our highest rate in Cayman is heterosexual sex, so it definitely is not a homosexual infection,” Ms. Elniski stated firmly.
She added there was a reason people in Cayman are more likely to think: ‘it won’t happen to me.’
“We also live in a country where testing is mandated by our immigration laws, which gives us a false sense of security that if you have unprotected sex with someone on a work permit you are ‘safe’,” she qualified.
She said getting tested was important and not to be put off by the problems of the past.
“Several years ago there were some false negatives. So when we did other tests, we found they were HIV reactive and we did further tests on these individuals,” Ms. Elniski clarified.
She explained: “the HSA, Public Health and the Ministry looked further into those tests done. We’ve now come to an agreement with the health practitioner commissioner that there is a list of test kits that individuals on island can go and use.”
The blood test for HIV looks for the presence of antibodies produced by the body to fight the infection. Ms. Elniski believes it should be part of everyone’s regular health screening.
The HSA provides free HIV testing at the Red Cross every Tuesday between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.