Representatives from both public and private sector agencies will put their knowledge of HIV to the test next week, when the Labour Department hosts its 6th Annual HIV Awareness Competition.

Safety and Health Officer, Nia Salankey-Payne explained that the competition was created to assess employees’ knowledge about HIV and debunk some of the myths associated with the virus.  She said that while the contest has taken the form of poetry and debate competitions in the past, it began as an infotainment event held in the Warrens Industrial Estate in 2007.  However, it was decided that another format could be used to have a greater impact and increase dialogue about HIV.

“We sought to identify an activity that would definitely reach the intended audience and would be more manageable to assess.  Consequently, the first competition was held in December 2008 in the form of a quiz.  It was a team effort and was open to the public service,” she said, adding that eventually the activity was moved to February, as part of Love Safely Week.

The event continued to evolve, with the activity taking the form of a poetry competition in 2011 and 2012.  “The response was exceptional,” Mrs. Salankey-Payne, recalled, “[But] we saw the need to reach employees across the workforce and it was recognized that persons have different skills and interests; so there was a switch to a debating competition, requiring team-work last year and we invited participation from the private sector as well.  This year, the competition is an individual effort, with participation from both the private and public sector,” she revealed.

Throughout the years, the theme for the HIV Awareness Competition has focused on various issues of note, including HIV Infected Workers Have Human Rights Too (2011) and, Getting to Zero: Zero Stigma, Zero Discrimination in 2013.  This year’s speech competition carries on last year’s theme with Getting to Zero: The HIV Fight is Not Over! where individual participants will speak on ‘Workplace policies addressing HIV and AIDS will improve acceptance of people living with HIV at work’.

Mrs. Salankey-Payne encouraged members of the public to attend the speech competition, which will be held on Thursday, February 13th at 2:00 p.m. in the Amphitheatre, 1st Floor, Warrens Office Complex, Warrens, St. Michael.

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