December 1 is commemorated as World AIDS Day. Today marks 30 years of us doing so. This year it is under the theme ‘Know Your Status’. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending Jamaica Network of Seropositives second World AIDS Day Breakfast Forum which they held under the theme ‘Delivering Quality Care; Supporting Positive Living.” Many stakeholders were there including but not limited to: Eve For Life, Jamaica AIDS Support for Life, Jamaica Community for Positive Women, The Ministry of Health, UNAIDS Jamaica, USAID Jamaica, Equality Jamaica, Equality Youth Jamaica, Transwave, WE- Change and many others.
WE- Change Ambassadors
During the event many persons were tweeting and so you may follow the hashtag #HealthforAllJA, #KnowYourStatus #WAD2018 to see what persons were saying.
Here is my own thread.
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is spread in several distinct ways, through blood and bodily fluids namely vaginal fluid and semen. That means someone may get HIV by sharing needles, a blood transfusion, having an infected persons blood enter an open wound, mother to child transmission and via unprotected sex. We tend to focus the most on sex.
But what’s all the fuss about sex?
Sex is something most adults will go on to do, it is how we were created and it is how we continue on as a species. Yet, talking about sex is extremely taboo. I am a firm believer in Jamaica implementing Comprehensive Sexuality Education in schools so that our young persons can learn about sex in a holistic, healthy and safe way. Our culture is way too silent on sex and many persons are still perpetuating myths about the act and the transmissions of STIs. The data alone should be enough to show that while 30 years have come and go, many things remain the same. The fight against stigma and discrimination is a social and cultural one. We have made major advances in medicine and science while our advances in behavioural change is a little disappointing.
Yesterday, many persons spoke, but I want to highlight the data presented by Dr. Nicola Skyers the Senior Medical Officer at the HIV/STI/TB Unit at the Ministry of Health and by Mrs. Manoela Manova the Country Director from UNAIDS Jamaica.
Some Alarming Data:
- Jamaica is one of the countries that contributed to 90% of the new infections in 2010.
- Public knowledge among young people on HIV has dropped by 10% from 2012 to now.
- 58% of persons had their sexual debut before the age of 14 and more than 30% of those were forced.
- Condom use among young people is dropping.
- Only 58% of men with HIV have been diagnosed.
- Age groups 20 – 29 make up the highest number of those diagnosed with HIV.
- In the general population HIV prevalence is 1.8% but in key populations it is much higher. Transwomen 51%, men who have sex with men (MSM) 29%, the homeless 14%, prisons 7% and female sex workers 2%.
- 1 in 4 of our newly diagnosed have been diagnosed too late- with 7% diagnosed at death.
I can’t put all the data here, but we know that persons are not getting tested, not adhering to medication or are defaulting from treatment. We know that this is because of fear and how the disease is seen in Jamaica. I cannot say enough that the fight against HIV/AIDS must be a social and cultural one.
I would be unfair to say that it was all bad news, no way! Good things are happening too. We are reaching 1000s of persons in at risk groups for testing, financial contribution by our government and their dedication to fighting HIV/AIDS is increasing and civil society is doing tremendous ground work and research in the community.
It’s been 30 years. HIV is a chronic disease that is not a death sentence. The life expectancy for those with HIV is no different from uninfected persons once they adhere to treatment. The goal is to have 90% of those with HIV know their status, 90% of those with HIV to be on treatment and 90% of those on treatment to be virally suppressed by 2020. We can only achieve these numbers if we focus on the social and cultural aspect and fight against stigma and discrimination. Medicine and science has done so much, it’s time for us socially to catch up.
Both seropositive and seronegative persons have a role to play in the fight against HIV/AIDS. I encourage you all to get tested and know your status. Not only that, but I want us to talk more about HIV and talk more about sex so we can dispel myths and spread correct information. Each of us has a role to play when it comes to removing stigma and discrimination.
Get tested today and read more about HIV or ask your Doctor for more information. It is not enough to just know your status.
Samantha C. Johnson