145 people take HIV test and 21 memory tests in St. Maarten


COLE BAY--The importance of knowing your HIV/AIDS status continues to draw people to community testing days organised by St. Maarten AIDS Foundation. Saturday's testing day in Cole Bay saw 145 people learning their status through the rapid, confidential HIV testing. Some 21 people had their memory measured by St. Maarten Alzheimer's Foundation (SMAF). This was the first time the two foundations have worked together.

The majority of people getting their blood drawn from their fingertips (similar to taking a diabetes test) were men (79) of various backgrounds and ages. A total of 66 women were tested at Charles Leopard Bell Primary School.

Women who were not sure of their partner's faithfulness or who found it difficult to convince their partner to use a condom were advised about the use of female condoms. AIDS Foundation volunteers demonstrated the use of female condoms to the women and gave them samples. The female condom was also suggested for women who are allergic to latex, the predominant material used in male condoms.

The rapid HIV tests and counselling were conducted by students of American University of the Caribbean (AUC) Medical School. The medical school has provided a steady stream of volunteers over the years for the testing days. The counselling focused on the sexual history of the person getting tested. Everyone taking the test was only identified by a registration number; no name was taken to ensure confidentiality.

Once the results were in, persons tested were given a second round of counselling by AIDS Foundation's Dr. Gerard van Osch, foundation Prevention Unit Head Rajesh Chintaman and Dr. Pierre-Yves Merlet, a doctor from the French side who volunteered for the testing day. The results were delivered together with advice on safe sex based on the person's sexual history.

Dr. Van Osch said that was "an excellent community response" which shows that more and more people understand the importance of getting tested and knowing their status. "We saw a larger number of people who were tested for the first time. We need this trend to continue for people to be informed about their status and how to take precautions against the contraction and spread of HIV."

Several hundred condoms, to promote safe sex, were distributed to people who attended the testing day. Some condoms and information about HIV/AIDS were also given out to pedestrians and drivers on Union Road, opposite the testing site, by foundation volunteers and Motiance dancers (in costume).
Adding a new dimension to the testing day was the AIDS Foundation's partnership with SMAF. People taking the test were ages 13-57.

SMAF Secretary Raymond Jessurum, who delivered the results of the memory tests, said the predominant finding was "mild cognitive impairment" – people were found to be mildly forgetful. Those with the "mild forgetfulness" were advised to see their family doctor for further testing, as the memory test is no substitution for a clinical assessment.
No severe case of Alzheimer's or its advanced form Dementia was found.

The memory test took a just a few minutes with people being asked to remember certain words and filling out a pre-set test form. That form was then graded, along with the person being asked several questions based on things they had been asked to remember.

SMAF Foundation President Keith Franca told The Daily Herald that two foundations are exploring "forms and means of cooperation" and SMAF's presence on Saturday was the beginning. He commended the AIDS Foundation for inviting SMAF and thanked it for allocating one of the only air-conditioned classrooms located at the entrance to the school.
Jessurun added that it was good that the two foundations were collaborating, because there is some link between a type of Alzheimer's and AIDS due to the HIV virus attacking brain cells.

Public Health Minister Cornelius de Weever commended the AIDS Foundation and SMAF for their efforts to improve the health of the community. He also applauded the "great response" from the community.

The extensive partnership between non-governmental organisations and the public health ministry's HIV/AIDS Prevention and Management Team (PMT) continues to be "a great initiative and proves that we can synchronise our efforts to better serve the people," De Weever said.