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Dr. Peter Figueroa, coordinator of the epidemiology and prevention programme in the Ministry of Health, has suggested the decriminalization of prostitution throughout the Caribbean and providing sex workers with greater access to health services, as a means of combating the spread of HIV/AIDS.
With prostitution being a leading cause of transmission, the argument is that once the trade is decriminalized or regularized, workers can be educated on how to protect themselves from contracting the disease, and they can be provided with protection from violence on the job, including rape.
“It will not give us the whole answer but it would help, Dr. Figueroa said, while addressing the opening of a two-day meeting of the Programme Coordinating Board (PCB) of the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS at the Half Moon Hotel in Rose Hall.
The health and diseases expert also called for the allocation of more financial resources to fight the disease; higher degree of civic and political commitment; implementation of anti-discrimination efforts such as legislation and awareness campaigns both at local and regional levels, and a cultural approach to combat the stigma attached to the disease.
He also pointed to the need for improved access of sex workers to the health services; for them to be protected from violence and police harassment and for increased intervention in the industry, with specific interventions aimed at male sex workers.
With 440,000 persons or 1.2 per cent of the population infected, the Caribbean has the second highest HIV prevalence rate in the world behind sub-Saharan Africa. The infection rate ranges from 1.4 per cent to over four per cent in some territories and is now the leading cause of death among men and women in the age group 15 to 44 years and young adults.
Dr. Figueroa said that the disease had reduced life expectancy by about 15 to 20 years, with countries such as Haiti, Guyana, Bahamas and the Dominican Republic reeling from the impact. The cumulative data of infected persons within the Caribbean is 60 per cent males to 40 per cent females.
“You can see the steady rise in the reported AIDS cases annually and this is the challenge that we are facing”, he noted.
Six per cent of infections were by heterosexual contact; 13 per cent by homo-bisexual contact, while transmission cannot be categorized in 17 per cent of cases, but “some are likely to be bi-sexual”, he indicated.
Discussions at the two-day meeting will surround the report emanating from the Caribbean Technical Expert Group on HIV Prevention and Gender entitled ‘Strengthening the Caribbean Regional Response to the HIV Epidemic,’ which was generated from a Pan Caribbean Partnership (PANCAP) against HIV/AIDS conference held in Jamaica in October.
Dr. Peter Figueroa, who chaired the committee that put the report together, pointed out that the document was “work in progress” but had nevertheless, established a process for reviewing and documenting the Caribbean experience. He emphasized that the report covered a population of about 30 million and enveloped diverse peoples and cultures.

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