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Sep 16, 2015

National AIDS Commission Releases Report on Sexual Behavior

Today at the ITVET in Belize City, the data of the 2014 survey on Knowledge, Attitudes and Sexual Behavior and HIV in Belize was officially released. The survey was sanctioned by the National Aids Commission in anticipation of the 2014 HIV/AIDS Report. A total of two thousand eight hundred households were selected across the country at random and young persons were surveyed on their sexual behavior. Duane Moody looks at the KAP report.

 

Duane Moody, Reporting

The 2013 report on the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the country showed that over a three-year period, the number of new cases of the virus had remained constant. Two hundred and forty-one new cases were reported overall and there are more men than women affected with the disease. But while the figures for the 2014 report are pending, there are indications that the number of new cases of HIV/AIDS is stable. Many factors influence the numbers and to get an understanding of local demography, the National AIDS Commission sanctioned a survey on the Knowledge, Attitudes and Sexual Behavior and HIV in Belize.

 

Gustavo Perera

Gustavo Perera, Executive Director, NAC

“The KAP report is done…one, it helps the national response to keep track of its progress in key areas. Two, it is part of our global reporting system because we have to report these indicators to the global UN-AIDS mechanism so that when they consolidate the data from countries around the world, that’s how they get the global picture. But nationally, we do it to track the progress in our response.”

 

The survey, which was funded through the Global Fund of the United Nations Development Programme, was carried out by the Statistical Institute of Belize. And the results were damning. The survey targeted primarily the youth between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four. Of the sample population, sixty-one point two percent have had sexual intercourse; majority of them were out of school. Nine percent of the youth population, however, had their first sexual encounter before the age of fifteen.

 

Jacqueline Smalls

Jacqueline Smalls, Demographer, SIB

“Young people, especially the ones under twenty, they are having sex. And we also recognize that there are a significant number of young people who are starting to have sex before the age of fifteen. So as it relates to those persons and reproductive health services being made available to them, we recognize immediately that there is an issue because there is a conflict with what the law allows and what is actually happening in reality. We are seeing that just about one tenth of the persons were sexually active reported that they actually started before they got to fifteen years old. So it is a significant number.”

 

But are the youths aware of sexual diseases plaguing the society and the preventative methods or even best practices? Demographer, Jacqueline Smalls, says yes because the results show that ninety-six percent of the fifteen to forty-nine year old population has heard of HIV/AIDS. But there is need for more education and awareness…and from an earlier age.

 

Jacqueline Smalls

“Yes there is more work to be done, but I think it is encouraging that our young people are using a condom at the first sexual encounter which means that they are listening, they are learning and there has been some behavior change. So investments have been made to effect young people’s behavior. We might not have been getting all the positive results that we had anticipated, but things are happening. It is not just for us to continue step up the programs, expand the service to areas where perhaps there wasn’t an apparent need for focus. Only three-fifth of the youths reported having used a condom the first time so that’s good, but it shows that only one half of the youths who had had sex with more than one partner during the last twelve months had actually used a condom. And we know that multiple sex partners is one of the high risk behavior. And while we are seeing that some of them are aware and they are using, we cannot afford to have this gap in this area in particular because as you said, this is where a lot of the risk comes in. So we really need to turn up the awareness campaign on this particular issue.”

 

Garifuna youth, followed by the Creoles, are more engaged in sexual intercourse and at an earlier age. The lack of education makes them more susceptible to contracting the deadly virus. These trends support the HIV/AIDS report of 2013 that indicated that primarily in the south, there are more HIV/AIDS cases. So what are the implications of the survey?

 

Gustavo Perera

“Because there is very early sexual debut, sixteen point four years in the case of fifteen to nineteen year olds, it is a little bit lower, it means that there will have to be stepped up efforts for education. Perhaps in partnership with parents and schools because I believe there has to be some common ground in terms of the approach to sexual education among young people because the reality is that young people, even before ten may be exposed to sexual education through the internet, social media, through television. And so that is something that needs to be looked at. In terms of safe sexual practices, I think that certainly, there is the need for a national condom program. The key issues are first the availability and the affordability because we need to establish that in the areas where there is not high usage of condoms it doesn’t mean that it is because of a tendency towards unsafe sexual practices but more issues of economics…can people afford condoms. So we need to establish those.”

 

Proper interventions will now be implemented. Duane Moody for News Five.

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