World AIDS Day, observed on 1 December annually, is being commemorated in Mauritius by a series of activities, aimed at raising awareness on human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) nationally, and promoting voluntary HIV testing with a view to reducing the rate of HIV/AIDS.
Activities kicked off on Friday 29 November 2019 at the Municipal City Council of Port Louis with free voluntary HIV testing and counselling to encourage more people to come forward to be tested. Present at the launching ceremony, the Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr Kailesh Kumar Singh Jagutpal, stated that while HIV treatment and testing are available, the challenge remains to better inform and educate the general public about the disease.
"There is still stigma and taboo associated with HIV/AIDS," deplored Dr Jagutpal, adding that one of the key ways to fight stigma is to enhance information and knowledge specifically among the youth. He stressed that as such, it is crucial that young people have a good understanding of HIV/ AIDS as an illness.
According to statistics on HIV/AIDS published by the Ministry of Health and Wellness, 382 cases of HIV/AIDS have been reported in 2018 in Mauritius, compared to 368 in 2017. The monthly average of new cases in 2018 was 32, while the number stood at 31 for the year 2017. Statistics indicate that, between 2017 and 2018, the number of newly detected cases has increased among women whereas it has decreased among men. Figures also show a rising trend in the incidence of the infection among those aged 25 years and above.
Other initiatives to be held in the context of World AIDS Day include sensitisation programmes on TV and radio as well as in the Prisons Department; and awareness sessions and HIV rapid testing in different communities in the Regional AIDS Units across the island. On Saturday 30 November 2019, an HIV testing day was organised at Caudan Waterfront by PILS, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that helps in the fight against HIV/AIDS, in collaboration with other NGOs and the Ministry of Health and Wellness.
'Communities make the difference'
World AIDS Day was first observed in 1988 to raise global awareness of the disease. The theme for this year's World AIDS Day is Communities make the difference. Chosen by UNAIDS, the theme highlights the key contribution of communities in fighting HIV/AIDS, among which their strong advocacy and activism role, and the development of AIDS responses such as promoting HIV prevention, improving access to HIV treatment, and combating HIV/AIDS-related discrimination and stigmatisation.