The 2008 UNAIDS report indicates that the growing incidence of HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean is being fuelled by men having sex with men. According to statistics from UNAIDS there are currently an estimated 230, 000 personsliving with HIV in the Caribbean. Some sources have it as high as 270, 000. Interestingly three quarters of this number, that is approximately 173, 000 are in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
The report indicates that as much as one of every eight HIV infection cases in the Caribbean region resulted from unprotected sex between men, especially in Cuba and Dominica. Statistics revealed that HIV prevalence among men who have sex with other men in Jamaica was between 25 to 30 percent, while it was 20 percent in Trinidad & Tobago. This information came from a Caribbean Commission on Health & Development 2005 document.
Other Factors Impacting HIV Epidemic in the Region
In addition to unprotected sex among men, the HIV rate is being driven by poverty, gender and unemployment. The associated stigmas of the disease are also preventing many persons from finding out and or revealing their status because of discrimination.
Recently there was a major debate in Jamaica concerning whether or not to decriminalize prostitution in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Professor Affette McCaw-Binns of the University of the West Indies is one voice in the wilderness calling for the legalization of prostitution to stem the spread of sexually transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS.
To support her argument, Professor McCaw-Binns noted that making prostitution illegal does not serve as a deterrent to those who practice the trade as a means of livelihood. She said that decriminalizing and licensing sex workers would result in “their being examined and tested every three months and if they are unfit to practice, they lose their license.”
The 2008 UNAIDS information is staggering especially given the homophobic nature of Caribbean society. However, the fact is there is a large homosexual community in the region. The sex market is not limited to heterosexuals, as homosexual men can at times be seen offering their services to men if one knows where to look.
The biggest issue as I see it currently is educating persons on the ways to help prevent the spread of the disease by practicing safe sex. The call for issuing condoms in prison is often criticized as a means of promoting homosexuality, but the reality is, sex between men takes place in penal institutions.
With one of the largest incidence of HIV/AIDS infections in the world, the Caribbean region has to address head on the factors driving this increase. This may call for unpopular remedies that are against societal norms and Christian beliefs such as legalization of prostitution.
-Jessica McCurdy Crooks
Sunday, August 3, 2008
Posted by The Coup Magazine at 6:24 PM