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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, June 15, 2024
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AIDS Conference Tackles Patient Care

Healthcare providers gathered to discuss the HIV/AIDS epidemic Wednesday at the Virgin Islands Cardiac Center on St. Croix.

The annual conference, hosted by the V.I. Health Department and the Frederiksted Health Center, presents information on the latest treatments and educates doctors and nurses about the HIV/AIDS resources in the territory made available by the federally funded Ryan White program.

This year’s conference focused heavily on issues of patient care. Dr. Carline Jean-Giles began the day with a lecture on providing cultural competent care.

Jean-Giles explained that for patients with HIV/AIDS, treatment is a lifelong experience. As such, good relations between doctor and patient are important for keeping patients on the right track.

“It’s essential that we start that relationship from a trusting perspective and then develop it,” she said. “Unlike someone not being happy with their primary care provider and going to another provider, an HIV patient just may not go to anybody at all.”

The key to developing a close relationship is to first understand the patient’s culture. What are the stigmas attached to HIV/AIDS amongst his or her people? What are the beliefs concerning sex and relationships?

Understanding these issues allow healthcare providers to treat patients with the respect they deserve and avoid difficult situations, she said.

Jean-Giles went on to say that it is equally important to understand your own culture.

“You have to be aware of when your own stuff starts showing up,” she cautioned the crowd.

She said that prejudices and stigmas from a provider’s own culture can creep into his or her work without the provider realizing it. She encouraged the nurses and doctors present to “know thyself,” and confront any prejudices they may be harboring.

“As healthcare providers we like to think that we provide quality care across the board to everybody—we’re not racist, we’re not biased—but in actuality, studies have shown that we are,” she said.

Overall, she said, the most important thing was to remember that you are a servant and to treat patients as people, not problems.

“People don’t care how much you know until they first know you care,” she said.

Later in the day, St. Thomas resident River Huston tackled some of the same topics from the perspective of a person living with HIV.

Huston has had the disease for 27 years and says that she encounters the same fear and misinformation today that she did in the early 90s.

“People still have unfounded fears,” Huston said. “They’re scared. You can’t change people’s opinion, but I think the more people publicly speak about living with [HIV], people can relax around it.”

Huston has been an HIV/AIDS activist for many years. She delivers sex education seminars to schools, she’s produced a one-woman play about her life with the disease, and she’s written a book on the topic, A Positive Life: Portraits of Women with HIV.

Her work is geared toward taking the mystery and the fear out of the disease.

“My whole goal is to get people to see that it’s a virus,” she said. “I have a virus. That’s it, end of story.”

Huston says that her condition is not the most important element of her life and she encourages others to stop defining HIV positive people by their disease.

“When you spend your life looking at the differences [between people] instead of the similarities, all you’ll find is a great divide,” she said.

Though HIV/AIDS does not receive the same attention in the media today as it has in years past, the epidemic is ongoing.

The U.S. Virgin Islands have had 928 residents diagnosed with HIV or AIDS since the epidemic began. According to the Health Department, the territory sees an average of 30 new cases diagnosed every year.

For more information, visit www.healthvi.org.

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