Jamaica observed Safer Sex Week from Monday, February 7-14, 2011 under the theme, ‘Protect your love, use a glove’. The following was to have been a first in a three-part series looking at HIV/AIDS statistics in Western Jamaica as well as highlighting the stories of persons living with the virus. In this presentation, The mirror intended look at the status of the epidemic in western Jamaica. Chapter Manger of the Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL), Devon Cammock assisted The Western Mirror in introducing the issue from a western Jamaica standpoint and sought to provide some analysis.
St. James continues to record very high numbers of Human Immunodeficiency Virus infections (HIV). Not far behind is the western parish of Westmoreland. Other parishes such as Hanover, St. Elizabeth and Trelawny which are also part of the western region, have slightly lesser figures. These trends continue to trigger concern among workers/experts in HIV prevention and treatment programmes across the island.
Statistics provided to the Western Mirror by the Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL) - indicate that in the more urbanized parishes, they continue to have the highest cumulative number of persons living with the virus. In St. James, 1071 cases per 100,000 persons were reported between January and June 2008. Kingston and St. Andrew had 754 cases per 100,000 persons in that period.
Between January and June 2007 and 2008, St. James recorded a whopping 34 and 49 cases respectively while Westmoreland had 39 in the corresponding period in 2007 and 28 in that same six-month period in 2008.
The South-Eastern Jamaica twin parishes of Kingston and St. Andrew recorded the highest numbers of the island - for January to June 2007 - they had 124 cases and in the same period in 2008 – the figure climbed to 147.
Devon Cammock, the JASL’s Montego Bay Chapter Manager, while conceding the figures are high, said that their doing more tests and reporting their cases on a regular basis could be a factor that contributes to the high number in this region, particularly in St. James. He pointed out that the 2009 and 2010 trends remained consistent with the 2007 and 2008 patterns.
“The St. James figures in particular are usually high for the last few years no matter what we have tried the figures still remain high,” Mr. Cammock revealed.
He insists that there is a need for persons, particularly those in the high-risk group of 15-24, to heed the myriad of messages which are being put out in the public domain, whether through advertisements in the print/online and electronic media or word of mouth, to put it into practice.
“There is a proliferation of HIV and AIDS messages out there that teach the importance of using a condom and how to use a condom to reduce the spread, however, persons continue to practice risky sexual behaviour,” he pointed out.
The Health Minister, Rudyard Spencer, in his message to mark Safer Sex Week, alluded to Mr. Cammock’s concerns.
“The number of HIV/AIDS cases reported per year increased by 21 per cent between 1999 (1436 cases) and 2009 (1738 cases). This situation is exacerbated by high incidences of multiple partnerships and low condom usage. Persons continue to engage in risky (sexual) behaviour and thereby risking their lives and those of their loved ones,” Minister Spencer stressed.
HIV was first detected in Jamaica in 1982 and since then, thousands have become infected. In this region, Mr. Cammock added, the rate of infection among commercial sex workers as well as MSMs (men who have sex with men) is somewhat high.
“The issue that many sex workers face is the fact some of their clients do not want to want to use condoms and offer to pay higher for sex without the condom,” Mr. Cammock explained.
The statistics from the JASL also indicated that heterosexual (straight) men, between 1982 and June 2008, were leading in terms of the rate of HIV infection in the island, their figure stood at 3533 for the period while for bisexual males – the figure stood at 322, homosexual – 234 and the unknown category – estimated at 2870.
Minister Spencer further added that “Our young people must be targetted aggressively as they are becoming sexually active at a younger age and are having multiple partners. Since 1982, AIDS cases reported among girls in the 10-19 age group have increased.”
The Minister added: “There must be a change in the behaviour of sexually active persons if we are going to see any meaningful reduction in Jamaica’s HIV prevalence rate. The 2008 knowledge, attitude, behaviour and practice (KAPB) survey indicates that men have an average of six partners while women have an average of three partners.
“Data shows that not only are incidences of multiple partnerships significantly higher among males; they are also high among persons 15-24 years old and those who are not in a married /cohabiting union. Women especially must take responsibility for their health and change their behaviour by buying and carrying their own condoms and urging their partners to use it,” the Minister further stressed.
Research has also shown that drug abusers are also at risk of contracting the virus. “These persons will do anything for a fix … they will have sex with just about anyone for a quick buck,” Mr. Cammock noted.
In the meantime, the number of AIDS deaths has decreased with 378 AIDS deaths (234 males and 144 females) reported in 2009 compared to 665 in 2004.
This represents a 43 per cent decrease in AIDS deaths since the inception of Universal Access to ARVs in 2004, and 31 per cent decrease since 1999 (549 AIDS deaths). While there has been progress in this area, the fact still remains that more persons are contracting the disease and so we must place emphasis on reducing the HIV prevalence rate across the country.