Is zero new HIV infections and zero AIDS-related deaths by 2015 really attainable?
More than twenty young people from across Jamaica will meet on April 9, 2011 to critically assess that possibility based on the lived reality that they confront on a daily basis. They are expected to do so against the background of rape, incest, lack of condoms, sexual diversity, discrimination, etc. The already brewing militant mood of these youths is expected to be central to their recommendations to the Government in preparation for Jamaica’s participation in the United Nations High Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS in New York in June 2011.
There is steady progress towards achieving Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 6 – to halt and reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015 globally. UNAIDS Executive Director, Michel Sibide, echoed that sentiment by insisting that the energy of young people must be harnessed for an HIV prevention revolution. “We are well on our way towards an HIV-free generation”, he said. But it is no secret that such a revolution must however be quick in coming so as to reverse the fact that in the Caribbean fifty persons become infected with HIV everyday. Additionally, new HIV infections are outpacing treatment in the Caribbean. In 2009, for every 50 persons starting antiretroviral treatment (ART) in the Caribbean, there were 70 new HIV infections.
According to Dr. Pierre Somse, UNAIDS Representative for Jamaica, “this is of great concern because far too many young people in Jamaica do not know how to correctly prevent HIV transmission while they are having sex from as early as 13 years. That is why UNAIDS is happy to be involved in this consultation”.
The consultation, entitled “Getting To Zero & The Road to Universal Access”, is being convened by the Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network (JYAN) with technical assistance from UNAIDS. JYAN is an independent voluntary youth-led non-governmental organisation (NGO), which represents the interests and aspirations of youth across Jamaica. Participants at the consultation comprise of persons from JYAN, the Jamaica Youth Ambassadors Programme (JYAP), Eve for Life, National AIDS Committee (NAC), Ashe Performing Arts Company, UNFPA Youth Advisory Board, Clarendon College and UWISTAT, National Secondary Students’ Council, among others.
According to Jaevion Nelson, Executive Director at JYAN, the consultation is important because the progress in Jamaica towards achieving the MDGs has not reached every young person between ages 10 and 24, particularly those who are most vulnerable, marginalized and at risk. “We are still in dire need of comprehensive sex and sexuality education. We need access to and availability of condoms and other safe sex commodities. And we need a more holistic mechanism to treat, care and support those of us who are living with HIV/AIDS.” There are still approximately 13,000 people waiting for HIV treatment in Jamaica.
The consultation seeks to identify gaps in the national response to HIV and AIDS and suggest appropriate strategies to create a more enabling environment to reduce young people’s vulnerability to HIV transmission and AIDS related deaths. It will also air the human rights issues around stigma and discrimination preventing access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support for the nation’s youth.
At the end of the consultation a Call to Action will be developed urging stakeholders to renew their commitment and improve national strategies for moving forward towards reaching universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support and the Millennium Development Goals with respect to young people.