ST. CROIX — Residents walked from the Basin Triangle to Fort Christianvaern Thursday as part of World AIDS Day activities that took place territory-wide. Wearing red tops and holding lit candles, they were joined by Governor Kenneth Mapp and Dept. of Health Commissioner Michelle Davis, as they walked through the town of Christiansted — guided by police escort — singing Michael Jackson’s “We are the World” along the way.
The territory’s theme this for year’s World AIDS Day event was “Leadership, Commitment and Impact”. And Mr. Mapp, through a proclamation, joined the rest of the world in declaring December 1 as World AIDS Day in the territory.
After the walk, a short ceremony was held at the Fort, where speakers, to including Mr. Mapp and Ms. Davis, spoke of the impact HIV/AIDS has had on the territory, and efforts the Mapp administration is taking to quell its rise.
“I’m here because I want to demonstrate to the Virgin Islands community that HIV and AIDS is not a death sentence, and that we should not stigmatize any person in the community that’s afflicted,” the governor said. He said there would be discussions with Dept. of Education Commissioner Sharon McCollum to educate the 14000 students who attend the territory’s public schools, “so folks could understand that it’s not something to stigmatize about, and also about learning and prevention.”
Dept. of Health Commish Michelle Davis and Gov. Kenneth Mapp join residents for a World AIDS Day candlelight vigil through Christiansted. (Credit: Ernice Gilbert, VIC)
Stating that HIV continues to be a global issue, Ms. Davis said the disease not only impacts infected individuals, but households and communities. According to Ms. Davis, in the territory, 1061 HIV/AIDS cases were reported between 1983 and December 2014. There were 172 new diagnosed cases of HIV infection reported between 2008 and 2014. At the end of 2014, 609 individuals were living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The disease has claimed the lives of more than 450 U.S. Virgin Islanders since the epidemic began.
“Even though there is not cure for HIV at this time, treatment is a lifelong process,” Ms. Davis said. She made known that 30 percent of the HIV/AIDS population is currently receiving care.
The event’s mistress of ceremony, Sherri Henigan, revealed last night that she has been living with HIV for 28 years, proof, she said, that those infected can live long and healthy lives. The event climaxed with attendees throwing flower petals into the ocean at the Fort in remembrance of those who have died by disease.
Wanda Burgos, who received the 2020 Women Alumnae Award for living over 30 years with HIV, led the activity, crying as she continued to call the names of those who have died.
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