Jendy McDonald | Hundreds of Jamaican youth living with HIV
Globally, World AIDS Day is observed on December 1. It is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in their fight against HIV, show support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate those who have died. Wearing a red ribbon is a simple way to identify with this cause.
Getting to ZERO is the theme set by the United Nations from 2011 to 2015.
• ZERO new infections.
• ZERO stigma and discrimination.
• ZERO AIDS-related deaths.
According to the UNAIDS, the world is on track to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, 78 million people have contracted HIV and 35 million have died of AIDS, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history. AIDS kills more than 6,000 people every day worldwide. Nineteen of the 36.7 million people currently living with HIV are not aware they have the virus.
In 2015, there were roughly 2.1 million new infections, 220,000 of which were among children who have been infected via their HIV-positive mothers during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.
In 2013, the Caribbean accounted for more than 250,000 persons living with HIV in the region. Five countries accounted for 96 per cent of all people living with HIV in the region - Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Access to antiretroviral treatments has improved significantly, with coverage currently at 42 per cent of people 15 years or older living with HIV in the Caribbean - an increase of 31 per cent since 2011. AIDS-related deaths remain highly concentrated, with 98 per cent occurring in the five countries previously mentioned - Haiti alone accounted for 59 per cent of all AIDS-related deaths in the region during 2013.
TEENS AT GREATER RISK
In Jamaica, it is estimated that there are currently 28,400 persons living with HIV/AIDS and 30 per cent do not know they have the virus. This amounts to a prevalence of 1.7 per cent. The main mode of transmission is sexual intercourse between a man and a woman.
Adolescents are a high-risk group for HIV infection, as almost 10 per cent of all reported AIDS cases are among young people under 19 years of age. Young people between the ages of 15 and 35 are in the greatest danger, as they generally have more sexual partners and more regular sex.
Recent statistics show that younger females are also contracting HIV, with the 10-29 and 15-19 age groups accounting for the majority of the increase. Within our school system, it is estimated that there are 815 boys who are currently living with HIV, along with 685 girls, all between the ages of 10 and 19.
But what is the cause of such alarming numbers? In the end, the main culprit is the spread of HIV from person to person through unprotected sexual intercourse between a man and a woman. The problem is, most people do not believe it will happen to them! Ask any HIV-positive person if he or she believed it could have happened to them and they will tell you no.
A number of economic, behavioral and socio-cultural factors have also been identified to be the drivers behind this pandemic in Jamaica. These include:
• Multiple sexual partners.
• Early sexual activity.
• Inconsistent condom use.
• Inconsistency between knowledge and behaviour regarding HIV prevention.
• Slow economic growth, unemployment and the growing economic importance of drugs and prostitution.
• Discrimination and stigmatisation around HIV/AIDS.
• Gender roles and inequities, including the 'sugar daddy' phenomenon, and demands on boys to prove their 'manhood'.
• Inadequate attention to HIV in the health and family Life Education curriculum.
Despite education and scientific advances, stigma and discrimination remain a reality for a lot of people living with the condition.
But what exactly
is HIV and AIDS?
HIV stands for Human Immune Deficiency Virus. HIV weakens the immune system by entering and destroying the body's white blood cells. As more and more of these white blood cells are destroyed, the body becomes less and less able to fight off the many different germs which live in and around the body all the time.
AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. AIDS is a medical diagnosis for a combination of illnesses which results from weakening of the immune system due to infection with HIV. People with AIDS eventually die from one of those diseases which our bodies cannot resist.
There is no cure for an HIV infection, therefore, prevention is the key! An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure! There are many ways to prevent an HIV infection; the safest sex is abstinence - no sex at all. However, if you must have sex, you can prevent sexual infections by safer practices such as: mutual faithfulness in marriage, waiting as long as possible before engaging in sex for the first time, the correct and consistent use of condoms, and the reduction of the number of sexual partners.
NOTE: The only effective way to prevent an HIV infection is to prevent any contact with the HI virus - and that depends greatly on your lifestyle.
Much of the fear regarding HIV and AIDS centres on a lack of understanding as to how the virus is transmitted. HIV is transmitted in three ways - sexual contact, contact with the blood of HIV-positive person, or through prenatal transmission. Casual contact such as breathing the air around an HIV positive person, or even touching or kissing, has not led to transmission. As a result, those who do not carry HIV can, with little concern about infection, welcome those infected with HIV to join in all normal social interactions at the workplace, in their homes and in church.
If you know someone who is HIV-positive, remember, you cannot get infected through casual contact; and to that person who is HIV positive, it means a lot to have normal contact with others. People with HIV need positive contact as much as they need the most advanced antiretroviral therapies. They need normal and healthy emotional lives that include love, compassion, support of family and friends, medical care, housing, access to a job, access to social, educational and recreational facilities, and access to places of worship.
If your friend or family member is HIV-positive, show friendship and love by simply being there for that person. Make physical contact by hugging him or her. Your friendship will not only mean a lot to that person, you will become a richer person in the process.
- Jendy McDonald is an HIV and AIDS educator with Positive Impact Ministries first, and attempts to be a writer second. She facilitates HIV and AIDS workshops for churches, as well as conducts information sessions in schools, communities, etc. Recently, she completed a course in HIV and AIDS facilitation in the 'Channels of Hope Programme' offered by AIDS Link International, South Africa, and is now a Channels of Hope HIV and AIDS facilitator/educator. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com.