Minister of Health, Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson, is appealing to all sexually active Jamaicans to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves and their partners from HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
“Once unsafe sex is practised you are at risk for contracting a sexually transmitted infection,” the Minister said Wednesday April 25th as he addressed the Communication for Change (C-Change) Research Dissemination workshop at the Wyndham Kingston.
He said it was critical to build a continuum of prevention services for young people through information and support from early adolescence, arguing that the youth are “more likely to adopt safer behaviours if they are exposed to information earlier."
Stating that investing in prevention is key to attaining lower rates of adolescent pregnancy, STIs and HIV, Dr. Ferguson noted that this was not a job solely for the government, but would take the input of every member of society, as well as the support of organisations such C-Change and other stakeholders.
“Together, we must convince persons to take control of their sex lives by using condoms, taking HIV tests and reducing the number of sex partners they have,” he remarked.
Mission Director, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Denise Herbol, pointed out that the availability of quality data is critical in the fightagainst the spread of HIV. “The more information we have about where and why new infections occur, and where the epidemic is most likely to spread, allows us to improve targeting HIV prevention efforts,” she said.
She added that governments and other stakeholders are also able to make more informed evidence-based decisions to improve programmes, policies, and health services.
Miss Herbol said the United States government is committed, through its President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) programme, to strengthening strategic information in the Caribbean region.
"PEPFAR supports the government of Jamaica and civil society organisations’ capacity to increase the availability, and use, of quality HIV-related data,” she informed.
Data from the National HIV/STI Programme show that Jamaica has an estimated 32,000 persons or 1.7 per cent of the adult population living with HIV and approximately 50 per cent of these persons are unaware of their status.
Surveillance data also show higher HIV prevalence in populations such as men who have sex with men (MSM) 32.8 per cent; sex workers 4.1 per cent; and homeless persons 8.2 per cent.
According to the 2008 Knowledge, Attitudes, Practises and Behaviour (KAPB) study, that surveyed 1,800 adults age 15 to 49, there are indications that more than a third or 38.9 per cent of the sexually active respondents reported having multiple partnerships over a 12-month period.
It was also found that the incidence of multiple partnerships was significantly higher in the 15 to 24 age group, with 47.2 per cent of the respondents reporting having multiple sex partners. The report also showed that of all respondents reporting multiple partners, only 44 per cent used a condom every time.
C-Change, implemented by FHI 360, is a USAID-funded project to improve the effectiveness and sustainability of social and behaviour change communication (SBCC) across development sectors.
The organisation works with global, regional, and local partners in the major health areas, including family planning and reproductive health, HIV prevention, malaria prevention and control, and water, sanitation, and hygiene. C-Change also provides communication support to other sectors, including government, civil society, and the environment.
By Athaliah Reynolds, JIS Reporter