Pregnant women and women of child-bearing age can now be tested for HIV/AIDS free of cost at the St Joseph Mercy Hospital and if they test positive, can be part of the Stemming the Tide Pro-gramme.
The hospital is the first private entity to offer free HIV testing, following the national programme that started in May 2002. The programme was established to diagnose, treat and support women who are HIV positive and children born to them.
Speaking to Stabroek News yesterday, Sister Sheila Walsh, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the hospital said that the programme had been made possible following a donation of US$60,000 by the Catholic Relief Services.
According to her, the hospital shortly after the national anti-retroviral drugs (ARV) programme started, implemented a programme where ARVs were also administered to HIV patients.
However, there was a problem with this programme since, according to Sister Walsh, persons could not afford the laboratory test that went along with the HIV testing. She said the Stemming-the-Tide programme was mainly for women and children, but she added that should a man show up to be tested they would not turn him away. Walsh explained that when the hospital implemented the ARV programme, the Cat-holic Relief Services Organi-sation approached the hospital asking it to put a programme in place to deal with women and children.
It was then the ‘Stemming’ programme was initiated with US$10,000 donated by the organisation. However, because it was difficult for most women to pay for the laboratory testing, a further US$50,000 was donated to offer testing.
After the persons are tested and should they be HIV positive, they are then given the option to enter the programme, which offers ARVs and other types of treatment. There are currently about ten women and children in the programme but it is hoped that with the free testing more persons will visit the hospital for treatment.
The donation is expected to fund the programme for the next year, and depending on how successful it is Walsh said that the hospital would be looking at getting further funding. “We see this [the programme] as a baby step towards addressing a serious problem especially in women...” she said.
A release from the hospital said that the testing would be confidential.The release added that it was well known that patients suffering from HIV/AIDS exhaust their financial re-sources rapidly and often had nowhere to turn. The hospital said that it hoped that it could be a haven where compassionate, quality care can be rendered in a confidential and dignified manner.
Testing will be done on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings and Tuesday and Friday afternoons. For further information on testing, persons can call 223-3178, 618-0858 or 225-3185 and ask for Lisa Stellino or Terry Witkus.