A significant proportion of adolescents and young people are still in need of information about preventing HIV, not only abstinence messages. UNAIDS has found that ‘in the majority of [Caribbean] countries the percentage of young females and males aged 15-24 years who both correctly know HIV prevention measures and reject myths surrounding its transmission is below 60 percent’ (UNAIDS 2008, Keeping Score II).
Today on the occasion of World AIDS Day as we celebrate our achievements in responding to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, we must critically appraise the policies and programmes that target children, adolescents and youth, specifically identifying in them dangerous gaps and overlooked perspectives. Some of these nuanced views include research findings that suggest young people continue to put themselves at risk of HIV infection and transmission because they (1) lack information, (2) are denied access to condoms and other forms of contraceptives, (3) do not get tested for HIV, (4) undergo a significant amount of socio-cultural prejudices, (5) are at risk of sexual violence (particularly against girls and women), and (6) are stigmatized and discriminated against for various reasons. We must therefore be committed to addressing these pitfalls, by raising the public’s awareness and understanding of HIV.
On November 26, 2010, about 300 young people at the Yute X Conference hosted by the Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network (JYAN) aired their concerns and needs with regards to their sexual and reproductive health. The consensus was that providing young people with the information and services needed to make responsible decisions (of which delaying sexual initiation is important) is least likely to cause adolescents and young people to become sexually active and at risk of HIV infection and transmission. Participants recommended that (1) the Health and Family Life Education (HFLE) programme be extended to all secondary school students (not just only the lower school), (2) provide more training as well as train more teachers in the HFLE programme, (3) stipulate that the programme be timetabled and not left to teachers to integrate the lesson in regular class sessions, (4) provide and/or encourage youth friendly health clinics and pharmacies to enable youth to access necessary services and (5) revisit more constructively the issue of providing access to condoms for students in school.
We encourage policymakers, especially at this time when funding for HIV/AIDS programmes is depleting, that policies are designed to address the realities that exist rather than a reflection of our beliefs and biases.