This year, Safer Sex Week is being celebrated under the theme "Tek Charge”. It is an urgent appeal for persons to take control of their sex lives by using condoms, taking an HIV test and reducing the number of sex partners they have. This appeal comes against the background of the thousands of Jamaicans who continue to engage in risky sexual practices and the estimated 32,000 persons who are currently living with HIV/AIDS, of which half are unaware of their status.
Preventing the spread of HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) begins with persons taking greater responsibility in ensuring that they practice safe sex at all times. Unfortunately our data shows just the opposite. The 2008 Knowledge, Attitudes, Practices and Behaviour study (KAPB) that surveyed 1800 adults between the ages of 15-49 years indicates that more than a third (38.9%) of the sexually active respondents reported having multiple partnerships in the past 12 months. More specifically, the incidence of multiple partnerships was significantly higher in the 15 – 24 age group with 47.2% of the respondents reported having multiple sex partners. The report also shows that of all respondents reporting multiple partners, only 44% used a condom every time. This is especially alarming when considering that having more than one sex partner increases your risk of contracting HIV.
There is much more work to be done to successfully target this 15 – 24 age group if we are to see a significant reduction in the rate of HIV infection. We recognize that even though persons are knowledgeable of the consequences of unsafe sexual practices, they continue to engage in risky behavior. Respondents in the 2008 KABP showed little or no concern for contracting HIV or an STI due to poor risk perception. According to the research, “even those who had used no condoms in their last sex act saw themselves at little or no risk of contracting HIV”.
The task at hand therefore is to transfer knowledge into action. There is a need to build a continuum of prevention for young people that provides information, support and services throughout the life cycle, from young adolescent years through to adulthood. This undertaking is not a job for the Government alone. The involvement of every member of society is needed. Young people are more likely to adopt safer behaviours if they are exposed to information earlier so investing in prevention is a key strategy to lower rates of adolescent pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and decreased HIV incidence.
I urge all sexually active individuals to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves and their partners from HIV/AIDS and other STIs. Once unsafe sex is practiced you are at risk for contracting a sexually transmitted infection. During this week and beyond I hope that the message to “TAKE CHARGE” of your sex lives will be practiced consistently as we work towards achieving the Millennium Development Goal of halting the spread of HIV by 2015.
Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson
Minister of Health