August 3, 2010
Peer pressure, drugs, money major sex drive

Drugs, peer pressure and money are driving Vincentian youth towards sex early in their lives, exposing them to risky situations with regard to HIV, according to the HIV and AIDS Strategic Plan 2010-2014.{{more}}

In addition to these youths, the sexual behaviour of mini-bus drivers, uniformed personnel such as police officers and security guards, and fisher folk put them at higher risk for contracting the disease, the Plan said, in identifying the drivers of the HIV epidemic here.

The Plan identifies sexual intercourse at an early stage in life as the number one driver of the HIV epidemic in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) and the Caribbean.

The document said that in order to fit in with their peers, Vincentian youth, like their Caribbean counterparts, experiment with alcohol, marijuana and sex.

“Through those experiences, teenagers build their own identity and gain acceptance and recognition from others, but expose themselves to risky situations with regard to HIV infection,” the document stated.

The second major driver of the epidemic, locally, is transactional sex, which occurs among both sexes.

The Plan said that the consumerism culture, coupled with poverty, can lead to young Vincentians having sex in exchange for commodities.

This is compounded by these youth having sex with persons from different age groups, which, along with their lower condom-use negotiation skills, puts them at greater risk of contracting HIV.

In addition to early sex encounters and transactional sex, Vincentian youth are often involved with multiple partners, at the same time or subsequently.

The Plan further said that access to youth-friendly health services in SVG remains inadequate and youth, especially young girls, seemingly experience challenges in accessing condoms.

The second group “most at risk” of contracting HIV is men who have sex with men (MSM), which the Plan categories as gay or heterosexual.

The Plan says social norms, stigma and discrimination, together with religious conservatism and buggery laws encourage MSM to remain a hidden population.

This secret lifestyle exposes these men to greater risk of getting HIV and limits their access to prevention methods, care and treatment, the Plan said.

People Living with HIV (and AIDS) – PLHIV- are third in the “most at risk” ranking through the risk of re-infection and transmission of the disease to their partners.

Some PLHIV are unwilling to disclose their HIV status generally or with their sex partners. Additionally, some PLHIV are involved in transactional sex due to their low socio-economic status.

This can affect their ability to engage in condom negotiation and result in low condom use.

According to the document, minibus drivers are likely to interact with and engage in sexual relationships with school-aged girls.

On the other hand, security guards may have sexual relations during work hours, for example at night, and HIV can be transmitted if condoms are not used.

Fisher folk who overnight in other islands to sell fish may have cash to spend and may be at risk for contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases through sex. Persons who work on cargo ships were also reported to be at risk for these diseases by having unprotected sex during their work-related trips. (KXC)