People avoiding HIV tests due to stigma

People are not getting themselves tested for sexually transmitted infections due to the stigma associated with HIV.

This is according to the Samoa AIDS Foundation president, Leniu Dr. Asaua Fa’asino, who told the Samoa Observer that people should not stigmatise people living with STIs, or those who want to get tested. 

Leniu said the Foundation, together with the Samoa Red Cross Society, Samoa Family Health Association, and Samoa Faafine Association as well as the YWCA, have worked well with the Ministry of Health in raising awareness. 

“The reason we are trying to promote counselling and testing is to try and get the people that may be infected and they do not know,” she said.

“So there’s always that possible like with any kind of infection like Hepatitis B, Syphilis, Chlamydia, so it’s always like that a small percentage is known, the bigger percentage is unknown.”

“The more coverage we can do with the testing, the better the picture will be. So instead of saying there will be an increase in the number of cases, there will be a more accurate picture of the number of cases because then there are still cases that have not been detected.”

Chlamydia is the highest STI in Samoa, and they are still testing several types. 

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“Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that does not have any symptoms. A lot of people can carry the infection around without knowing. So there hasn’t been a marked increase but the levels are still high, so like around the high 20s or low 30s, so it’s been like that right from when the testing started. It’s hard to tell if there is an increase in the numbers,” Leniu said. 

“Based on the types of risk factors that are out there and evidence that are there already there like the donors, pregnant mothers who get routine checks, and surveys done in the past suggest there would still be cases that have gone undetected.”

“The youth groups and pregnant women are considered as low risk, but vulnerable. If we look at the high risk group, there may be a bigger number, but we can’t say for sure. It’s important that somebody with some risks or vulnerability should be tested.”

The high risk groups are those who have more than one sexual partner, those who have sex without condoms, pregnant mothers who pass it on to their babies, some who may be doing injectable drugs, and sharing contaminated needles. 

Vulnerable groups are the ones who are not able to defend themselves or make proper decisions like young people or disabled who are taken advantage of. 

Leniu is urging the public to get themselves tested and to look at STIs like any ordinary diseases. 

“Each of the NGO has their own primary role and there’s also quite a lot of overlap, which is good because it’s reinforcing, the target population also may differ a little and that’s also good because it’s complementing each other and making sure that all the groups have access to information, to counselling and testing, treatment and so forth. 

“Some groups of people maybe comfortable with one group of NGO compared to another.” 

Samoa has recorded 26 confirmed cases of HIV since the first was detected in 1990, and to date only 13 people living with the STI are still alive.  

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