Wednesday, 11 March 2009 16:57
By D Francis
The AIDS Secretariat has launched a one-year programme geared at reducing HIV cases among the most affected grouping - youth in their 20’s and 30’s.
Deputy AIDS Programme Manager Delcora Williams told Caribarena they will be targeting secondary schools first. "We have to teach them how to forget about sexual intercourse for now and focus on their
education, and for those who may have already been sexually active for whatever reason, how to makewise decisions and protect themselves," she said. "Because if this is the cycle we are seeing in terms of HIV, it means that they must have contracted the virus in their earlier years, so we are trying to prevent this through empowering them with the right information.”
Williams added, “The ABC’s are what we will be promoting - Abstinence, Behavioral change and finally Condom use. We are not so much pushing the latter, but are mostly pushing the first two.”
According to Williams, once they get the go-ahead from the Ministry of Education and the school principals, they will be heading to the schools with tents, tables and information. The Secretariat has four
counselors enlisted, along with other members of staff who will be sharing information.
"It’s not too late to teach them about the importance of education, self respect and self esteem,” she said.
“We don’t want them to fall for the first person who says I love you, or whose face is pretty. Of course we know, based on surveys, that some of these young people are already sexually active, and if they plan to continue, it can be done safely."
The AIDS Secretariat has been working closely with a number of organisations, including the Caribbean Family Planning Unit, which has already donated 100 books to work with the youth in schools.
“There are lots of terrible stories out there about how some of these young people end up with HIV, and if we start to educate them early to create a greater awareness that this thing can be prevented, we will be on the right track,” Williams said.
Other activities that form part of the one-year programme include free counseling and HIV testing in St John’s and rural areas.
Rapid HIV testing is another project in the works, so that people can have their results in less than half an hour. A patient information card is also being formulated, available from the health facilities that conduct testing in All Saints, Browne’s Avenue, Clare Hall, Gray's Farm, St John’s, Barbuda and Mount St John's. These cards will also be available at private establishments.
According to AIDS Secretariat figures, from 1985 - December 2008, 769
persons were reported to be HIV positive in Antigua and Barbuda. Of
this number, 394 were adult males, and 341 adult females. There were
also nine male children and 14 females. The gender of 11 people was
In 2008 alone, 88 positive cases were reported - 40 males, 45 females,
one female child and two of unknown gender.