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Safe sex message needs lift


Safe sex message needs lift

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A call has been made to reform traditional education pertaining to the spread of sexually transmitted infections.

Local youth group dance4life said messages of safe sex and protection should be more specific and primarily targeted at individuals who are most at risk.

The group also believed the time had come for the introduction of a more youth-friendly national health care policy for those under the age of 18.

“Effective education means pounding the pavement and imparting the knowledge where it matters most, whether that be in our schools, workplaces or public spaces,” said Shakira Emtage-Cave, programme manager, dance4life Barbados.

She was responding to comments made by Dr Anton Best, senior medical officer with responsibility for the HIV/STI Programme, who said 18 and 19-year-old men “did not come up in an era when HIV was considered a death sentence.”

Agreeing with Best, she suggested that most young people were more concerned about preventing pregnancy than contracting STIs, including HIV. 

“Today, the classic model of ad campaigns, posters, billboards and booklets has become less relevant to the under-25 age group, and from a national perspective, we ought to be taking a more proactive, hands-on approach to the dissemination of information.

“We need to utilise creative methods of teaching so that information is not only retained, but that it also has a greater chance of being translated to behaviour change. And of course this extends to persons already infected,” said Emtage-Cave.

“And while it is true that STIs are on the rise among young Barbadians, we still have barriers in our health care system that prevents those under the age of 18 from accessing testing, treatment and prevention mechanisms without parental consent; and something needs to be done about this.

“Naturally, a policy such as this will drive STI rates up in our small population.”

The local chapter of dance4life, which has a mandate to unite young people through music and dance while educating and empowering them to push back the spread of STIs and HIV, currently has a presence in ten secondary schools, along with affiliate programmes with the Government Industrial Schools and the Barbados Child Care Board.

In the coming weeks, dance4life will launch a petition lobbying for more youth-friendly health care services, including access to testing, treatment and contraception.

“The bottom line is that while media-based education is considered effective for raising general awareness, its overall impact is difficult to measure. Thus, it is essential that we go beyond promoting general awareness and instigate behaviour change among our young people,” added Emtage-Cave.  

“The information we disseminate must also be adaptive and flexible. Some media messages try to change people’s behaviour by making them afraid of the consequences of becoming infected.

“This not only has the potential of making the intended target audience afraid of persons who are infected, but also risks portraying persons living with HIV or STIs as at fault for becoming infected. This is a very slippery slope.”  (PR)