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The Human Resources and Social Development Committee of Parliament has called for legislation to protect persons infected with HIV/AIDS from discrimination in the workplace, public institutions and their communities.
The members also want laws to be put in place to deal with persons, who knowingly infect others with the disease. They argue that such action was tantamount to attempted murder and should be considered a criminal offence punishable by law.
State Minister for Education, Youth and Culture and Chairman of the Committee, Dr. Donald Rhodd, in his report to Parliament on Tuesday (Nov.1) said that the committee had made some 30 recommendations to address the disease, covering the broad categories of: leadership and advocacy; legislation and regulation; health, education and information dissemination; and social support and funding.
The report also speaks to the importance of political and civic leadership in spearheading the fight against stigma and discrimination.
According to Dr. Rhodd, the Committee also discussed a recommendation from interest groups, that prostitution and homosexuality should be legalized. He noted however, that the “Committee was not calling for the legalization” of these practices.
He said the view was also expressed that even though funding was in place to support the National HIV/AIDS Programme, more resources were needed to “tackle the problem in a more comprehensive and effective manner, as implementation of many of the programmes was being hampered by a lack of funding.”
Concerns were also raised about the need for sufficient resources to provide care and support for the victims of HIV/AIDS and their families and to ensure that adequate funds could be made available through the National Health Fund, to enable infected persons to access treatment.
Committee members also suggested that in order to adequately curb the disease, the government would need to address poverty and unemployment.
They also suggested that a programme of condom distribution could be undertaken to encourage safe sex practices particularly among persons in the lower income group, who might not be able to afford the items.
Recommendations were also made for a comprehensive review of the social services network to correct deficiencies to ensure that persons would be referred to the appropriate agencies for the particular assistance required.
The select committee was set up to examine and make recommendations on the issue of HIV and AIDS in Jamaica. The committee found that between 1982 and 2004, some 22,000 persons have estimated to be living with HIV, while more than 9,000 are living with AIDS.
Approximately 60 per cent of those infected with AIDS are males and 40 per cent are females. Children under the age of ten years account for eight per cent of the total reported cases. Up to 2002, a total of 4,412 persons died as a result of the disease.
In the meantime, the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS has been reported in Kingston and St. Andrew with approximately 501 cases per 100,000 persons and St. James recording 630 cases per 100,000 persons.Other parishes showing rapid increases in the rate of HIV/AIDS include St. Ann, Westmoreland and Hanover.
According to the Jamaica HIV/AIDS/STI National Strategic Plan, HIV/AIDS is the second leading cause of death in children one to four years, and the age group with the highest number of infections is the 15 to 49 age group.
It was also revealed that the number of reported new HIV infections in adolescents has been alarmingly high since 1995, with HIV infections in young girls between 10 and 19-years old being three times that of boys of the same age, and with those in the 15 to 24 age group accounting for 50 per cent of all new HIV infection.
Several factors have been listed as the driving force behind the spread of HIV/AIDS. These include the sexual behaviour of individuals, myths surrounding sexually transmitted infections, commercial sex work, sex tourism, stigmatization and discrimination of persons with the disease, the use of drugs, among others.