May 23, 2004 Top V.I. health officials presented an overview of the territory's AIDS program to representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week.
Members of the health department's executive staff and workers involved with the territory's HIV and STD clinics spent three days talking about the strategies being employed to curb the rise of new cases of HIV.
Darlene Carty, commissioner of the V.I. Department of Health, said, "We had a meeting with the CDC program officers and program chiefs from the HIV prevention program…they were here to speak to us about some critical issues and some of their concerns and some of the corrective actions we are putting in place within the territory,"
The Virgin Islands are reported to have the fourth highest incidence of new cases of HIV and AIDS in the United States. Carty said new federal guidelines are being put in place to address that.
Up until now one of the major strategies has been to encourage persons who have tested HIV-negative to avoid infection. Now federal health authorities want to reach people who have tested HIV-positive and encourage them to avoid infecting others.
"The shift on the national level has us looking not only at the persons who are negative, but the persons who are positive to stop the transmission of the disease, so the strategy is changing somewhat on the national level, and we have to comply," the commissioner said.
To demonstrate its readiness to adopt the new approach, Carty said two new prevention specialists began working at the Health Department at the beginning of the year.
During the recent meetings, the prevention team updated both CDC officials and Carty's executive staff on what is being done to curb the rise of the disease locally.
Through the end of December of last year, there were 550 cases of HIV in the Virgin Islands. About 330 people have died from HIV and AIDS since the territory began collecting health statistics in the mid 1980s.
Two weeks ago, the U.S Department of Health and Human Services announced an award of more than $900,000 to the territory through the Ryan White Title II program, which funds HIV treatment programs. About $9,300 in additional funds were granted to the territory to monitor patients whose HIV infections might manifest into new strains of the virus.
Carty said that her department is putting the components in place to make sure the Virgin Islands are complying with federal requirements in order to access all of the funds available.
Also on the commissioner's mind are new accountability procedures, the need for which became apparent after 22 HIV test samples taken at a public health fair disappeared last June. Word of the missing tests and their mysterious reappearance several months later reached officials at CDC and V. I. Inspector General Steven Van Beverhoudt.
Health is required to provide details about its testing program to CDC and report how federal funds are being spent to collect, analyze and record the test results.
In his first audit report regarding the missing tests, Van Beverhoudt told Health to better monitor the accountability of health workers handling test samples.
A second audit report, generated by the reappearance of the tests, is expected to become public shortly.
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