THE EDITOR: TT’s inability to prioritise comprehensive sexuality education across the nation’s schools is doing more harm than good. Had an aggressive approach to the delivery of this subject been in place, TT would have had more good news to reveal on the occasion of World AIDS Day 2018 today. This as a 2017 report from the Ministry of Health notes that locally 1,643 youth are estimated to be living with HIV.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has reported that over 30 per cent of all new HIV infections globally are estimated to occur among youth aged 15 to 25 years. Meanwhile, closer to home, UNAIDS has stated that in Latin America and the Caribbean, young men 15-24 years continue to account for one-third of all new HIV infections.
It must therefore be emphasised that to address the spread of HIV, a youth-friendly approach and more preventative measures must take precedence. Youth living with HIV are forced to cope with the profound stigma and discrimination associated with HIV, as well as the challenges of transitioning into adulthood, and so they represent a vulnerable population.
The 2017 TT Global School-based Health Survey (GSHS) has confirmed that a significant percentage of students below the age of 18 are sexually active. Students in Forms 1-6 and between the ages 13-17 were surveyed, with 2,836 students participating from Trinidad and 1,033 from Tobago.
The survey found that 28.4 per cent of students 13-17 years had already had sexual intercourse at the time of the survey in Trinidad, while the number was higher at 38.8 per cent in Tobago. Of the Trinidadian students, 55.9 per cent reported they had sexual intercourse for the first time before 14 years and this was again higher among Tobagonian students at 56.3 per cent.
When the issue of condom use came up, only 49.6 per cent of Trinidadian students, who said they had sexual intercourse, revealed that during their last encounter they used a condom and 57.7 per cent of the Tobagonian students also claimed the same.
There can be no more telling evidence than the results of the survey which should signal that the students of TT are in dire need of comprehensive sexuality education, especially if we are to reduce the instances of sexual intercourse among minors and the spread of HIV among the nation’s youth.
While the theme of World AIDS Day 2018 is “Know Your Status,” in TT an individual below the age of 18 is unable to receive testing or treatment without an accompanying adult, but laws allow individuals to work at 16 and obtain a driver’s permit at 17.
Furthermore, the local environment ignores the reality that individuals below 18 who are sexually active and suspect themselves to have contracted an STI or STD may hide their status from their parents or guardians.
Instead, testing, treating and counselling should be made available to all individuals in a non-discriminatory manner to ensure no one is turned away but rather provided with the assistance required for them to make better future choices.
The TT Youth Convention stands ready to support the work of any organisation involved in the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS and the suppression of the stigma and discrimination associated with the virus.
TT Youth Convention