Valentine’s Day is pretty big in Jamaica. In uptown Kingston, there are brunches and concerts and special events. The town is flooded with imported roses, shiny boxes of chocolates and teddy bears with loving messages. The flower sellers on the corner near our house went into overdrive yesterday, setting out tables full of merchandise. It’s their biggest sales day of the year.
Every year, too, Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL) focuses on the physical side of things: in a word, sex. It’s a good opportunity to get some messages out and to encourage condom use and getting tested. As you can see from their release below, more young men are having more partners compared to just a few years ago (and youth are having sex at a younger age too, by the way). And HIV/AIDS is still very much present, even though much less in the news. It has not gone away, as JASL’s Executive Director Kandasi Levermore said a year ago. Young people are the greatest worry – and they are primarily engaged in the growing practice of “transactional sex” (sex as a sort of quid pro quo for gifts or favours). How can we reach them more effectively?
By the way, I interviewed Ms Levermore exactly two years ago for Global Voices – during Safer Sex Week, on its 25th anniversary. You can read the full interview here. Our conversation concluded with her words:
We’re 25 years old, but we are trying to stay true to our founding principles: equality, preserving human rights and dignity, and quality service. We work with Jamaicans who are socially excluded, to ensure there is a space for them to get the care and attention they need and deserve.
Our motto is ‘Love. Action. Support.’ But I think we are a little empty in this country. In general, we are void of compassion.
As noted by JASL on World AIDS Day 2018, there is still much work to be done and more private and public sector support is needed. As the saying goes, A luta continua. The struggle continues.
Jamaica AIDS Support for Life Targets Youth For Safer Sex Week
Jamaica AIDS Support For Life (JASL) has intensified its message to youth, aged 15-24, about the importance of safer sex practices with a full slate of intervention activities for Safer Sex Week.
Safer Sex Week is observed from February 10-16 and coincides with the hugely popular Valentine’s Day, which is at times associated with sexual risk-taking and fleeting decision-making, behaviour that could potentially have life-altering repercussions. It also coincides with Condom Day, a global celebration promoting healthy sexual relationships on February 14. This year’s theme is Consent – meaning agreeing to do something, or for something to happen.
Sexual risk-taking is common among youth aged 15-24, who not only are engaging in multiple sex partnerships but are less likely to consistently use condoms and other devices to protect against unwanted pregnancies and HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STIs).
The 2017 Knowledge, Attitudes and Behaviour Survey shows 47.1 per cent of males aged 15-24 surveyed reporting having multiple partners, compared to 14.9 per cent of females. This is a significant increase over 2012, when 31 per cent and five per cent, respectively, revealed they had multiple sex partners.
Whilst 81.2 per cent of males in the same age cohort said they used a condom with those multiple partners during sex, only 30.0 per cent of their female counterparts sought to protect themselves. The figures point to a worrying trend as in 2012, 85.7 per cent of males and 50.0 per cent of females were using condoms with those partners.
JASL’s St. Ann chapter started its intervention with rap sessions on HIV & AIDS and condom demonstrations at Carron Hall High School in St. Mary, before moving on to Ocho Rios High School.
The Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector, with its high concentration of youth employees, also benefitted on Monday from a similar intervention from JASL’s Montego Bay chapter, when the group visited RTR International. The team moves to Teleperformance and Montego Bay Freezone on Wednesday 13th and Friday 15th February, respectively, before closing out the day at the University of the West Indies Western campus.
Meanwhile, the St. Ann intervention team will take to the streets of Trelawny on February 13 and St. Ann’s Bay on February 14 with their kits, providing on-the-spot HIV and syphilis tests to residents in their Walk, Talk and Test.
Safer Sex Week activities will culminate with mass testings on February 15 in Papine Square and Mandeville; and a big fun and wellness fair in the Farm Heights community of Montego Bay on Saturday 16th. There will be bounce about, face painting, netball exhibition matches, a dance-off, music, giveaways and lots of fun and excitement at the fair. All activities are scheduled to start at 10:00 a.m.
JASL encourages persons to protect themselves and their loved ones by using a condom every time they have sex as well as to get tested in order to know their status. Condoms provide 99 per cent protection from HIV and other STIs – which include genital herpes, genital warts, syphilis, chlamydia, human papilloma virus and hepatitis A, B, and C.
Approximately 34,000 Jamaicans are living with HIV, however, nearly 22 per cent of those infected do not know they are carrying the virus.
Jamaica AIDS Support for Life provides HIV & AIDS-related support services, free of cost, through its chapters in Kingston, St. Ann’s Bay and Montego Bay.
Activities for this year’s Safer Sex Week are funded by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.