JIS News

Chief Medical Officer at the Ministry of Health and Environment, Dr. Sheila Campbell Forrester, has said that the National HIV/STI Programme is working assiduously, to create programmes and interventions, to address the risk, vulnerability and resilience of the country’s youth.
She was speaking at the Ministry’s HIV/STI Programme and World AIDS Day briefing, held on Thursday (November 27), at the Ministry’s downtown offices.
On Monday, December 1, Jamaica will be commemorating World AIDS Day, under the theme ‘Youth: Take the Lead’.
Dr. Campbell Forrester noted that AIDS is the second leading cause of death in the 15 to 24 age group.
“The focus on youth for this World AIDS Day is quite apt, and has been promoted by research findings, as well as in our latest HIV/AIDS epidemic update. By asking youth to take the lead, we are indeed saying that we are empowering them to become advocates and agents of change,” she pointed out.
Dr. Campbell Forrester said research findings showed that the average age of sexual initiation for boys is 13 years and for girls, 15 years. She further informed that as of June 2007, there were over 200 reported AIDS cases among adolescence. Between 1995 and 2006, HIV infections doubled in the age group 10 to 24 years.
“When we look at sexual practices, the age group 15 to 19 years has the highest number of non regular sexual partners in the last 12 months, according to the 2008 national knowledge attitude practice study,” she informed.
Meanwhile, Senior Medical Officer for the National HIV/STI Programme, Dr. Kevin Harvey said that over the last two years, there has been a significant decline in the number of reported AIDS cases in Jamaica, and a significant decline in the number of deaths resulting from AIDS.
There has also been a marked decline in the number of paediatric AIDS cases, and this is being attributed to the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission Programme, which provides medication to HIV infected pregnant women, to prevent mother to child transmission.
“What we are seeing is a decline in HIV transmission from mother to child, from above 25 per cent in 2002 to somewhere below 5 per cent in 2007,” Dr. Harvey said.
There are an estimated 27,000 persons living with HIV/AIDS in Jamaica, and the estimated number of persons unaware of their HIV status is about 18,000.
Some of the factors driving the epidemic include early initiation of sexual activity; limited life skills and sex education; insufficient condom use; multiple sex partners; stigma and discrimination; commercial and transactional sex; substance abuse; and men having sex with men.
In the Caribbean, there were 20,000 new infections in 2007 and 14,000 AIDS related deaths. The region has the second highest HIV prevalence rate in the world, after sub-Saharan Africa. The epidemic in the Caribbean has stabilised, and declined in the urban areas of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
On another matter, in response to the recent attacks on children in Jamaica, Dr. Campbell Forrester stressed that there is a need to protect the children.
“We cannot afford to have them being abused and also being murdered. If we look at it, for the young people that are being murdered, if they are killed at 15 years, then we would have lost 50 years of productive life. Therefore, it is incumbent on each one of us to take the lives of our young people seriously,” she urged.
“We must send the message loud and clear to those who seek to kill, to psychologically destroy our young people, that we are not going to tolerate it any longer. I must say, that we are here to advocate for that change and to tackle the serious situation facing our youths, not only the situation of HIV, but all the health issues that affect our young people,” Dr. Campbell Forrester said.