HUN­DREDS OF JA­MAICAN YOUTH LIV­ING WITH HIV

Jamaica Gleaner - - HEALTH - Jendy McDon­ald Con­trib­u­tor Jendy McDon­ald 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

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. AIDSre­lated 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 HIV­pos­i­tive 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.

GUEST COLUM­NIST

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