Health Concern over Low Rate of HIV/AIDS Screening and Testing

The 2018 World Aids Day message is loud and clear

By Lagi Keresoma

APIA, SAMOA – MONDAY 03 DECEMBER 2018: Samoa may have a low number of people affected with the HIV/AIDS virus, but the number of unreported and unrecorded cases is a major health concern that needs to be addressed.

This was disclosed by the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Health, Leausa Dr. Toleafoa Take Naseri at the celebration of the World AIDS Day and Samoa Fa’afafine Week last Saturday.

“The serious issue we face now is the very low rate of HIV/AIDS screening and testing which was only 6% in 2017,” said Leausa.

Compared to other highly contagious diseases that show symptoms after contracting a virus, HIV/AIDS victims only see signs of their infection 8 weeks after contracting the virus.

“The low percentage is an indication that we do not have the exact number of people affected by HIV/AIDS virus,” said Leausa.

He said Samoa is a very small country that could easily be wiped out by HIV/AIDS, and he is content with this year’s World Aids Day theme, “Know Your Status” because people tend to shy away from testing because of the sensitivity of the issue.

“We should know our status, where we are now with HIV/AIDS, not only in our homes but the community, know how to react and associate with victims and know how to live a happy life,” he said.

The National Health Services float at the World Aids Day floats parade

Leausa said since 1990 when the first HIV/AIDS case was registered in Samoa, 26 cases have been recorded, 13 have passed on and 13 are still being treated with some of them returning to their previous employment.

Part of the Ministry’s continuing campaign against HIV/AIDS was the launch of various guidelines related to the spread of HIV/AIDS and national guidelines on viral therapy testing and prevention.

He also pointed out the adversity in transmitting the virus through blood during tattooing.

“Tattooing is rooted culturally in Samoa and a very popular practise now, but we need to prevent people from spreading virus through blood if not properly done,” he said.

In his opening speech at the opening, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi highlighted some of the obstacles and fears when the disease was first recorded in Samoa.

“There was fear, uncertainty, discrimination against the fa’afafine because we did not understand the disease then,” said Tuilaepa.

But Samoa has come a long way and has worked collaboratively with international partners and stakeholders to gradually came to terms with the disease and the myths and stigma that surrounds it.

Reverend Utufua Naseri, Alex Su’a, President of  the Samoa Faafafine Association, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Malielegaoi and Leausa Dr. Take Naseri with health workers at the opening of the World Aids Day

The Prime Minister commended various organisations campaigning and promoting HIV/AIDS awareness and urged them to persevere in doing so.

One group he acknowledged despite being discriminated is the Samoa Fa’afafine Association (SFA).

“They have been blamed often as the cause of HIV/AIDS, yet the records show that none of the 26 HIV/AIDS victims is a fa’afafine,” said Tuilaepa.

SFA celebrated their annual weeks programme together with the World Aids Day for the past five years promoting health awareness, human rights, domestic violence and others.

A candlelight service was conducted at the Congregational Christian Church at Fa’atoia last Friday evening to start the week long programme.

A colourful parade of floats from the Fire Station towards the Malaefatu playground at Sogi stopped shoppers and Beach Road traffic on Saturday morning.