KINGSTON — The Ministry of Tourism, through the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo), has launched an extensive public awareness HIV/AIDS campaign in an effort to reduce risky sexual behaviour within the sector.
Portfolio Minister, Hon. Edmund Bartlett, said the campaign will not only seek to promote HIV/AIDS awareness within the workplace, but will also aim to eliminate the stigma and other negative connotations that have been associated with the disease and those infected with the illness.
Mr. Bartlett was speaking at the official launch of the programme at the Spanish Court Hotel in New Kingston on Thursday September 22.
"We are aware of the risks that workers in the tourism industry face, especially those in very high guest contact areas," the Minister remarked.
He informed that the campaign will include a television feature, which was filmed at a cost of $2.89 million and will be aired on Television Jamaica (TVJ), as well as a number of local cable stations in the resort towns.
TPDCo has also created a number of radio advertisements, posters and other visual aids, which will be used to bring education and awareness to players in the industry. “We hope that these tools will play a significant role in reducing and ultimately eliminating some of the stigma and myths associated with the disease,” he stated.
He informed that the Ministry has undertaken a number of strategies to address HIV/AIDS, including hosting three focus discussions earlier this year, one in each of the major resort towns of Montego Bay, Negril and Ocho Rios. The Ministry is also partnering with several local and international organisations to cultivate a broader sense of awareness about HIV/AIDS and to encourage behavioural changes among the most vulnerable groups.
A major initiative is the development of the Tourism Sector HIV/AIDS Workplace Policy, through collaboration with TPDCo and the Ministry of Health, which provides the framework to combat the disease and address discrimination within the sector.
The key objectives of the policy, the Minister said, include reducing the transmission of the disease within the sector, managing and mitigating the impact of the disease within the workplace and on the sector in general.
"It also seeks to increase overall knowledge about the disease as well as providing treatment, care and support for workers living with the disease, while reducing the stigma and discrimination linked to it," he informed, noting that it also sets standards of acceptable behaviour for all employees in regards to HIV/AIDS-related matters.
According to the Minister, the relationship between tourism and HIV/AIDS is one that demands full attention, not merely because the Jamaican economy, like many others in the region, relies so heavily on tourism earnings, but also because the Caribbean has the second highest HIV/AIDS prevalence in the world.
He noted that some of the leading tourist destinations including Jamaica, Bahamas, Barbados, and the Dominican Republic have the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean.
Figures from studies conducted by the Ministry, show that in 2009, 60 per cent of all reported AIDS cases were found in the country’s most urbanised parishes of Kingston and St. Andrew, St. Catherine, St. Ann and St. James.
Statistics from the National HIV/STI Programme indicate that the parishes of St. James, with 1,854 cases per 100,000; Kingston and St. Andrew with 1,432 cases per 100,000; and St. Ann with 1,038 cases per 100,000, have the highest cumulative number of reported HIV/AIDS cases since the start of the pandemic.
Mr. Bartlett said that while the studies have shown that there is no direct association between the disease and the sector, “nevertheless, in light of the possible link, and while studies are underway to determine the true link, we as a Ministry continue to do our part to reduce the number of HIV/AIDS cases within the sector."
By Athaliah Reynolds, JIS Reporter