This week there is a workshop on to discuss the epidemic of youth with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. While there has been a reduction of new cases countrywide so far this year, there are gaps to be addressed with regard to youths and particularly young men who have caught the deadly virus. We spoke to the National AIDS Commission’s Shirlene Tablada.
Shirlene Neal-Tablada, BCCC at National AIDS Commission – “Okay, there are a number of interventions that have been taking place. One of the things, for example, is promoting testing, getting people to know their status in order for you to decide what actions to take next. Once you know your status then you stay safe, you know that you’re HIV negative and then you continue to practice safer sexual behaviors once that is the case. There are a number of services, prevention services that have been available trying to educate young people, raise awareness about HIV, providing counseling services for young people, sexual and reproductive health services. There are a number of programs and interventions but we have found that it is not enough, that services are very limited when it comes to young people, places where young people can go to get information, to get advice as it relates to sexual choices, it’s very limited. And so for us a big focus of the strategy is to try and create those types of spaces for young people where they can go, where they can openly discuss issues regarding sex and what they’re going through and get sound advice and guidance as they move forward as it relates to their sexual choices.”
The workshop features 60 participants from active youth-based organizations in Belize. Several of these organizations visited Jamaica last year and accompanied their Jamaican counterparts to tour sites where the Jamaican policy on HIV/AIDS is being implemented. Sannia Sutherland of the Jamaican Ministry of Health is a participant at this workshop and says she is reciprocating that visit as the two countries continue to work together.
Sania Sutherland, Director of Technical Coordination and Program Management, Ministry of Health in Jamaica – “Well what we do, is that we have a package of interventions and our package of interventions includes HIV testing in outreach settings, it also includes a risk reductions conversation as well as condom distribution. Of course we are cognizant of the age of consent and so, without parental supervision a person cannot consent to getting an HIV test, if they are below the age of consent. However, if that person is at high risk and after counseling has really shown us evidence or given us evidence that they are at risk, we will conduct the test and do the necessary communication to our Child Development Agency of the risk that this person is under.”
The workshop is being hosted at the Inspiration Center in Belize City.