A recent study has found that inconsistent condom use, relationships involving multiple partners and a refusal to be tested for HIV are among a number of deeply engrained social norms stifling efforts to reduce the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases.
On Wednesday morning, the National HIV/AIDS Commission released the findings of a report on Knowledge, Attitudes, Beliefs and Sexual Practices Survey among adults ages 15 to 49 in Barbados.
While the study indicates that Barbadians are well educated on how to reduce the possibility of contracting the disease, they continued to practice a number of harmful sexual habits.
During the report delivered by Assistant Director of the commission Nicole Drakes at Government’s Warrens Office Complex, it was noted that researchers came to the conclusions after a thorough examination of the sexual experiences and past sexual behaviour of respondents.
Approximately 86.0 per cent of the over 1200 respondents were sexually active in the 12 months preceding the survey. However just 41.5 per cent reported using a condom the last time they had sex, with the most common reason for refusing was because respondents “didn’t think it was necessary”.
During her presentation, Drakes admitted that while the national aids programme focused on influencing positive behavioural changes, deep-seated practices have proven very difficult to change.
“…Success may not be something that we will see in our lifetimes, but we’re going to have to work on it. Understanding behaviours and understanding the motivations behind the way people behave are challenging, because sometimes people themselves don’t know why they’re doing what they do,” said Drakes.
In an interview after the presentation, she added that a greater level of “community will” was necessary to successfully tackle the problems.
“We need people in different parts of society and from all walks of life to tackle HIV, because sometimes we go to outreach and we offer people condoms and they’re saying they don’t need condoms, but you’re walking around with a partner and having sex.
“You may be faithful, but your partner may not be, so you need to protect yourself. If you can’t do it for you, find a motivator. Do it for your children or for somebody that you care about,” said Drakes.
The number of people being tested for HIV has reportedly also declined significantly to 33 per cent; down from 40.1 per cent in 2013.
Drakes also expressed concern with the number of people engaging in sexual intercourse under the influence of alcohol and other drugs, impairing their ability to make wise sexual decisions.
“Roughly 42 per cent (41.7 per cent) had sex under the influence of alcohol, 15.3 per cent under the influence of non-prescription drugs and 14.4 per cent had sex under the influence of both alcohol and non-prescription drugs,” revealed Drakes.
During the presentation, Senior Medical Officer of Health, with responsibility for communicable diseases, Dr. Anton Best added that social factors were also to blame for the lack of positive action from members of society.
“The main vulnerabilities for HIV in Barbados from my experience and in my professional opinion are male behaviours and poverty.
“When you can say male behaviours and poverty are driving HIV, then that covers so many people. There are so many different drivers and you have to be able to implement the programmes and interventions based on best available evidence,” said Dr Best.
Amid the worrisome figures there were promising signs. While respondents largely refused HIV testing, they maintained the belief that testing and practicing safe sex were essential to determining their HIV status.
Generally positive attitudes towards people living with HIV were also recorded with at least eight in ten persons being willing to care for a sick family member in their household, support the presence of HIV+ teachers and students in the school environment provided they were not ill and work alongside a co-worker living with HIV. Problems with discrimination fuelled by misinformation still exist, however.
“On the other hand, about 44 per cent had no desire to conceal the HIV+ status of a family member, while roughly one in three persons were willing to buy food from an HIV positive person. About one in four persons felt that landlords and co-workers should be informed of the HIV positive status of tenants and workmates respectively,” the study revealed.
The survey revealed that most respondents obtained information on HIV from television (85.1 per cent), radio (75.6 per cent), social media (53.9 per cent), pamphlets/brochures (50.1 per cent) and email/Internet (43.0 per cent). The deputy director however added that reform in the area of awareness was desperately needed.
“We’re all in this together, because HIV affects everybody regardless of whether or not you’re infected and it’s something everyone has to work on. HIV is a social disease, which affects humans, so we need to take off the blinders and realise that it is a country effort.
“More funds would help in some instances, but I don’t think it is everything. We need money, additional skills and volunteers.
“ . . . But we also need not to rest on our laurels or to continue doing the same things because that worked in the past. The past may be a good starting point to give us an idea of where we need to go, but we need to look at what is happening now and work accordingly,” said Drakes.