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Regional Technical Director at the Southern Regional Health Authority, Dr. Michael Coombs has challenged stakeholders in Clarendon to join the campaign to reduce the transmission rate of HIV/AIDS.
Dr. Coombs was speaking at the Clarendon Parish Health Review for the year 2004 held at the St. James Methodist Church Hall in May Pen recently.”I think all of us by now should recognise the seriousness of this pandemic. Clarendon in the southern region really has the highest number of cases in terms of rates and the numbers are climbing,” he said.
Dr. Coombs pointed out that Jamaica next to Haiti has the second highest annual death rate for AIDS in the Caribbean and the Caribbean was second only to sub Saharan Africa in the world.
He noted that the sexual practices of students posed a high risk of infection, noting that it had been brought to the attention of the Southern Regional Health Authority that female students were deliberately going without underwear in order to facilitate illicit sexual activity and were carrying out transactional sex in exchange for money or other items of payment, among other practices.
“We’re really going to have to redouble our efforts to do something about it.unless we can deal effectively with this kind of thing, we’re going to be feeding the epidemic of HIV/AIDS and its going to get worse.it’s no longer just a Ministry of Health effort, it has to be an intersectoral collaborative effort, so we need the Police, we need Education (Ministry) and all the Ministries you can think of to work together.so I’m issuing that challenge,” he said.
He added that it was also critical to deal with the matter of proper parenting in order to effect behaviour change.
Dr. Coombs also noted that there were just under 1,000 cases of AIDS reported in the southern region since 1982, adding that HIV/AIDS was the leading cause of death in the 20 to 59 age group in Jamaica.
Also speaking at the annual review, Medical Officer of Health at the Clarendon Health Department, Dr. Sonia Copeland said despite the fact that the parish now ranked sixth in the island regarding the number of persons living with HIV/AIDS, the southern region was still at the bottom end of the scale if the rate was calculated per hundred thousand persons.
Dr. Copeland noted that the 150 reported HIV/AIDS cases for January to December 2004 represented a 100 per cent increase in comparison to the corresponding period for 2003.
She attributed this however to an increase in the volume of persons who had been tested through the introduction of two major programmes: Voluntary Counselling and Testing Programme (VCT,) and the Antenatal Clinic Programme otherwise known as the Prevention of Mother to Child Programme.