JIS News

Chief of Epidemiology and AIDS in the Ministry of Health, Professor Peter Figueroa has described HIV/AIDS as a “silent epidemic”, and is encouraging all sexually active persons to do an HIV test.
“Anyone who is sexually active needs to do an HIV test in order to know their status, and if you are sexually active, you have to use a condom every time. The only time you cannot use a condom is if both of you have tested and neither of you are having sex with anyone else, which in Jamaica, you often do not know if that is the case,” he said.
Professor Figueroa was speaking today (February 12), at the launch of Safer Sex Week by the Ministry, in conjunction with public HIV testing of members of the MVP Track and Field Club, at the University of Technology (UTech).
The use of athletes to spearhead the testing and safe sex drive is integral to the observance of this week, as the Ministry focuses on getting healthy young persons to know their HIV status.
Safer Sex Week began yesterday (February 11), under the theme: ‘Safe Sex/Good Sex=Rubbers and a Test’, and will continue until February 17.
Professor Figueroa pointed out that in Jamaica, an estimated 25,000 persons were living with HIV, with as many as 15,000 unaware that they have the virus. “This is because HIV is a silent virus. When someone becomes infected with the virus through sexual transmission, they do not know that they have become infected, and they may not know for many years, because the virus is just there in the body, multiplying and slowly eating away at the body’s immune system,” he explained.
“It is only after an average of eight years that you begin to develop symptoms.that is why we are trying to get across the message of the importance of HIV testing,” Professor Figueroa informed.
He emphasized that you cannot tell by looking at someone if he or she has HIV. “You cannot feel the virus, so you can feel perfectly well, you can be an athlete, and still you could be infected and do not know it. So HIV testing is extremely important, in being able to identify persons living with HIV and getting them into treatment early,” he said.
“Once you get into treatment early, then you can continue to live a healthy and productive life. If you test negative, then that is an incentive to practise safe sex and remain negative,” Professor Figueroa said.
With respect to condom use, which is being emphasized during Safer Sex Week, the Professor said many young persons were unaware of the risks of HIV transmission, or did not believe that they could be affected. “Therefore, we find that not everybody is using a condom consistently and the virus continues to spread,” he said.
Professor Figueroa commended the athletes for coming forward to show the rest of the country the importance of HIV testing.
Outlining the schedule of activities for Safer Sex Week, he said that some outreach testing has already begun across the island, with more testing scheduled for Clarendon, St. Elizabeth, St. Ann, St. Mary, Manchester, Trelawny, and Hanover.
On Wednesday, testing will be conducted at Mandela Park in Kingston, in St. James, Portland, Manchester, St. Elizabeth and Hanover. On Friday, testing will be carried out at the St. William Grant Park in Kingston. Persons may contact the Ministry of Health for a comprehensive list of all the venues for their particular area or parish.
“We are also going to do some interventions and possibly testing with the help of the Ionie Whorms Inner City Counselling centre, at parties and dances,” Professor Figueroa said.
Among the athletes who participated in this morning’s voluntary testing were Jamaica’s track and field Olympians Brigitte Foster Hylton, Michael Frater, and Sherone Simpson, who are also members of the MVP Track and Field Club.