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Saint Lucia selected for youth HIV/AIDS awareness project

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Contact: John Emmanuel

Thursday, February 06, 2003 - A call has been issued here for the adoption of new communication strategies and approaches to reach the most vulnerable in society affected by the spread of HIV/AIDS. The call came on Wednesday during a national consultation at the Bay Gardens Hotel on ‘HIV/AIDS Prevention Among Youth in Especially Difficult Circumstances,’ organized by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Saint Lucia’s selection among countries of Latin America and the Caribbean to participate in the collaborative project with the UNFPA and the OPEC Fund is welcome news to health officials, as the island’s youth are among the vulnerable groups affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

World-wide about 50% of persons infected with HIV acquire the disease before the age of 25 and die of AIDS complications before age 34. According to Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health Fidelis Williams this is cause for serious alarm, as in some parts of the world, notably Africa; HIV&AIDS are reversing hard earned gains and life expectancy. The spread of the epidemic is also turning the clock back on social and economic gains as well.

Available data suggest that the epidemic is also spreading rapidly in the Caribbean with 360,000 persons reported to have been living with HIV/AIDS in the region in 1999. In light of those figures Mr. Williams has called for new approaches in tackling the AIDS pandemic.

“We need to devise new communication strategies, perhaps come up with new messages and identify new messengers to carry the messages to our people, particularly the young. If we do not, I hasten to add that we may very well face what I call the South Africanisation of Saint Lucia as far as HIV/AIDS is concerned. As a small country with a small population, there is no way our development efforts can sustain the loss that certain towns and villages in South Africa and Uganda for example have suffered over the past few years,” said Williams.

In June 2002 Saint Lucia reported 363 cases of HIV infection with 196 advancing to AIDS and 180 having met their deaths. Approximately 50% of children under age 15 represented 10% of reported cases and adults 15 - 49 years accounted for 76%.

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