Keisha Hill, Gleaner Writer
While the rate of HIV and AIDS among persons over 50 years old is considered low, one local health official has warned that the virus and disease are not age-specific. Addressing a workshop hosted by the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons Jamaica and the support of the United States (US) President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) programme, Dr Jeremy Knight, director of the HIV programme in the Ministry of Health, encouraged persons to place the disease in perspective by getting correct information.
"Once we are sexually active, irrespective of our age group, we are vulnerable. So it is a big mistake to think that age has anything to do with your vulnerability," Knight said.
Targeting young people
Noting that the country was still grappling with a 23 per cent rate in teenage pregnancy, Knight highlighted the importance of targeting young people, who are among the high-risk groups affected by HIV and AIDS. Data from the Ministry of Health indicate that the highest rate of infection and its prevalence among the 25-30 age group are primarily driven by risk-taking behaviours among heterosexual groups. He further urged persons to get informed about the factors which lead to HIV and AIDS in order to prevent further spread of the virus and the disease.
Rosemarie Stone and Ashraf Muqtadir, who are members of the community of persons living with HIV, were among the participants at the workshop. Stone, who has been HIV positive for close to 20 years, shared anecdotes from her own experience with the virus, emphasising the need for the support offamily, friends and colleagues for persons affected by the disease. "My family was very very important to my being here today. We have to empower all those who are HIV-positive, we need a collective response to have them fully engaged, it is a shared responsibility," she said.
Professor Brendan Bain, director of the Regional Coordinating Unit of the Caribbean HIV/AIDS Regional Training Network, pointed to the factors driving HIV/AIDS. Among these, he said, were an early initiation of sexual activity as well as limited life skills and sex education.
The workshops will continue on Saturday, January 18, at the St Peter and Paul Parish Hall in Liguanea and on Thursday, January 30, at the Mona Visitors' Lodge. The series of workshops, under the theme 'HIV/AIDS Awareness for Mature Adults', is being funded by the US-based PEPFAR programme.