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THE FIGHT AGAINST HIV/AIDS has been relatively successful in Barbados. This has been so largely because of the public education programmes undertaken at all levels. Despite these successes, it is evident that there must be no let-up in efforts to contain this dreaded disease.
Unfortunately, information from the Ministry of Health suggests neither the messages nor the need for behavioural change in relation to practising safe sex or indeed abstaining is getting through to everyone. So while there is a feel-good factor about some measure of success in containing the spread of HIV/AIDS, the same is not true about other sexually transmitted diseases.
The figures indicate high incidences of chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis cases. This is not a matter to be brushed aside.
So we must take note when respected senior trade unionist Orlando “Gabby” Scott says that more emphasis ought to be placed on abstinence over and above the use of condoms. Scott is no prude and as an occupational health and safety expert he has been focusing on various aspects of workers’ health for many years. He has been in the trenches in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
The abstinence message is one that has been promoted not only by the religious right, but even by health authorities. But, undoubtedly, it has been a mixed approach in both Barbados and the wider Caribbean.
So Mr Scott’s suggestion for greater emphasis on abstinence over and above what the HIV prevention campaign slogan recommends – Wrap It Up – would have caught many by surprise.
It highlights why it is important that sex education be taught in our schools. This must not been seen primarily as an effort to reduce adolescent pregnancy and STD rates but rather to give young people an opportunity to be informed, develop relationship skills and to promote values. This can help young people to become responsible, avoid unprotected intercourse and have sexually healthy lifestyles.
It is also a fact that in many instances where abstinence is given precedence over sex education stressing the use of condoms, pregnancy occurs as do STDs.
We hope that as someone knowledgeable about behavioural change communications Mr Scott would have considered the cultural nuances and historical factors of this society relating to behaviour in this matter. It is morally correct, but the statistics over many years will show that despite the best guidance from our health professionals, unprotected sex takes place long before marriage or commitment to one steady partner. It is about common practice and human biology. We would be playing ostrich by pretending that this situation is still not widespread.
So while we applaud Mr Scott for pushing the lofty ideal of abstinence, we also believe in the practicality of condom usage, even with all its faults. It has proven to be an effective method in promoting safe sex. It may even be a life saver.