Lifeline launches on-site HIV testing
Stabroek News
May 8, 2004

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Hilda Cox Bullen, wife of the US Ambassador to Guyana (centre) cuts the ribbon to Lifeline Counselling Services' New Start HIV testing facility, at the organisation's Cummings Street centre. Lending a hand is Lifeline's Goodwill Ambassador Olive Gopaul. L

The third of five unique HIV voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) sites was launched yesterday at Lifeline Counselling Services centre, 354 Cummings Street.

The New Start VCT service, a Population Services International (PSI) initiative, offers a different approach from the Ministry of Health-linked VCT sites. It provides on-site, state-of-the-art rapid HIV testing; confidential pre- and post-testing counselling, which covers risk reduction and is tailored to each individual. In addition, the New Start sites target young couples and adolescents, among other groups. Tests at all New Start sites will be done at a minimal fee of $200.

Lifeline's New Start VCT is the third such service to be launched. The first was launched at St Francis Xavier Community Developers in Rose Hall, Corentyne last month; the second at the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association. Another was scheduled to be launched at the Linden Care Foundation at Burnham Drive in Linden last evening. The fifth site, New Start Parika, will be at 315 Parika Village, East Bank Essequibo. This centre will be run entirely by PSI unlike the others, which are being executed in partnership with community organisations.

In his remarks, Chairman of Lifeline Dereck Springer was appreciative of the assistance provided by PSI to allow his entity to provide testing in addition to counselling, which it has been doing over the past ten years.

Springer said the objective of the service is to provide an opportunity to give people, whether they would have tested positive or negative, a fresh start and to help effect behavioural change. For those testing negative, the news will afford them a chance to change their behaviour. Those testing positive will be offered hope through an active referral system that offers care and support.

He said that persons taking a test will not receive their results in an envelope and have to wait with hearts pounding until they have an opportunity to read the results privately; they will be given their results by compassionate human beings "whatever the result."

In a brief background of PSI, the local office director Pamela Faura noted that PSI has been in existence for over 30 years and functions in 70 countries. USAID funds PSI and its work involves collaboration with, among others, ministries of health, non-governmental organisations, religious organisations, youth groups and people living with HIV/AIDS.

Meanwhile, USAID HIV/AIDS Technical Adviser Julia Rehwinkel said that USAID would continue to provide more financial and programmatic support under the US President Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

She said that over the next five years, PEPFAR aims to treat 2,000 HIV-infected persons with anti-retroviral drug therapy; prevent 15,000 new infections, and provide comprehensive care and support for some 9,000 HIV-infected persons through partnerships with local organisations.

Hilda Cox Bullen, the wife of the US Ambassador to Guyana cut the ribbon to open the Lifeline New Start site, assisted by Lifeline's Goodwill Ambassador Olive Gopaul.