Minister of Health, Hon. Rudyard Spencer, has appealed to Jamaican women to get tested for HIV, and to take more responsibility for their sexual behaviour by using a condom during sexual encounters.
The call came as the nation observes Safer Sex Week, February 7-14, under the theme, “Smarter Women Always Buy, Carry and Use Condoms.”
Mr. Spencer said that the urgent call is for women to buy, carry and use condoms, correctly and consistently.
In his message to commemorate National Safer Sex Week, Mr. Spencer said that the Week, observed each year during the period leading up to Valentine’s Day, provided an excellent opportunity to reinforce condom use messages to build awareness. He implored women “to keep HIV out of their immune system and discrimination out of their speech and demeanour.”
The Minister also noted that inconsistent condom use, multiple and concurrent partners were among the critical factors contributing to the spread of HIV in Jamaica.
Citing the 2008 National HIV/STI Programmes-commissioned “Knowledge, Attitude, Behaviour and Practice” (KABP) survey, he said that condom usage was more prevalent among men with multiple partners than among females. Fifty eight percent (58%) of females have reportedly never carried a condom.
“This reliance on men to provide condoms is disadvantageous, as the likelihood of risky sex is increased,” the Minister emphasized.
While 40% of the males purchase condoms at shops, only 16% of females is said to do the same. In addition, compared to a mere 1% of males who rely on their female partners to provide condoms, the KABP Survey showed that 25% of female partners rely on males to purchase condoms.
“This puts women at particular risk, because their power to negotiate condom use is usually limited, even though condom use should be a shared responsibility,” lamented Mr. Spencer.
The Minister bemoaned the current statistics, which report an estimated 28,000 persons in Jamaica living with HIV. Added to this, approximately 18,000 of this number are said to be unaware of their HIV status, as they have never been tested.
He also highlighted the strides made to combat the epidemic, noting that people living with HIV were living longer and enjoying a better quality of life.
He said there was a 37% decline in deaths from AIDS in 2007, as against 2006. He attributed this decline to public access to antiretroviral medication since 2004, and to the benefits from the abolition of health facilities User Fees in 2008.
“We intend to stay the course and maintain our public education efforts, as well as other strategies, at the highest level, so that we can see a reduction in the levels of infection and a positive change in the behaviours that contribute to this,” Mr. Spencer said.
The National Event to mark Safer Sex Week will take place on Thursday (February 11). The National HIV/STI Programme will head to Orange Park (near the waterfront, downtown, Kingston) from 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. The day’s activities will include free HIV testing, information sessions and the distribution of 6,000 packs of Durex condoms, donated by the Rotary Club of St. Andrew.
School visits will also form part the week’s activities. The four Regional Health Authorities will also be hosting a series of activities to promote safer sex throughout the month.