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Jamaica Aids Support offers sex education to commuters

TANEISHA LEWIS, Observer staff reporter Tuesday, May 20, 2008

PUBLIC commuters in St Ann are getting more than a ride nowadays. They are also getting sex education through a public education programme piloted by the St Ann chapter of the Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL). The aim is to get persons taking buses or taxis to know more about HIV and AIDS and condom use.

"There is the aspect of taxi and bus outreach where we actually go on the buses and in the taxis to the various destinations and do the HIV 101 (information sessions) and condom demonstrations and issue condoms and lubricants," Collette Gooden, outreach officer at JASL said. "We also distribute literature from JASL and we tell them about the services we offer."

This is just one of the many ways the non-governmental agency spreads the message about the importance of practising safe sex and information about HIV and AIDS in order to stem the spread of the disease in that parish. JASL has also found other innovative ways of including the community in its sensitisation efforts.

Recognising the need to educate members of rural community who are out of the reach of the mainstream sensitisation programmes, outreach officers at JASL randomly select communities in the parish where they do what they call a 'walk and talk in that community'.

Faybeyon Hulton, outreach officer at JASL, explained that the 'walk and talk' involves outreach officers going in to these communities and taking to residents about HIV and AIDS. They distribute pamphlets to the residents, conduct condom demonstrations and distribute condoms.

"They are very receptive," Hulton said of the residents. "We talk to the people in the rural areas because these people don't have access to information about HIV and AIDS." They visit at least 15 communities in a year and will revisit the community if they feel the residents are not absorbing the information fittingly.

Additionally, Gooden pointed out that interestingly, the older residents were more knowledgeable about how to correctly use a condom than their younger counterparts.

The Observer recently got a first-hand view of how a 'walk and talk' is done during a workshop on universal access to HIV prevention, treatment care and support hosted by Panos Caribbean and the Ministry of Health's National HIV/STI Control Programme in Ocho Rios. Journalists participating in the workshop were taken to the community of Warickmount in St Ann. During the 'walk and talk' the residents who seem shy at first when the outreach officers approached, warmed up once the condom demonstration began and they gladly accept the condoms.

"I think this is a good idea because I never knew how to use the female condom," one of the residents who sat in on the demonstration told the Observer.

But JASL outreach officers not only target commuters and residents with the safe sex message, they also go into at least four nightclubs in the parish regularly where they target sex workers. The also target "beach boys" who are the men who sell sex to female tourists.

"We visit various sex clubs and we offer VCT (voluntary counselling and testing). We have specific nights when we visit these locations and get the testing done," Hulton said. JASL is also currently working on a television programme that will be broadcast on local television stations in St Mary, St Ann, Trelawny and some sections of Portland.

An estimated 27,000 people are living with HIV and AIDS in Jamaica. There are approximately 370 HIV positive persons being treated in St Ann.


"Written by JOL Staff.
Reprinted with permission of the Jamaica Observer Limited"

Jamaica Observer Limited

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