The fear which once surrounded the contraction of HIV no longer exists and as a result Barbadians have returned to the culture of sexual nonchalance which existed in the pre-epidemic years of the virus, says Minister of Culture John King.
King, who spoke to Barbados TODAY this morning on the sidelines of the launch of his ministry’s HIV awareness programme at Sky Mall, contends that the subject of HIV and AIDS no longer has the “shock value” that it used to and this has resulted in the continued rise in infections in Barbados as well as the wider region.
“Unfortunately, this is part of our regional culture where as long as something is not in your face all the time and you have gotten past the shock value of it, we tend to take our feet off the peddle. We tend to relax and go back to old habits that have been formed over centuries. This is why we see the numbers going back up again because people are not taking this thing seriously.”
The Minister’s comments came just one day after Director of the HIV/AIDS Commission Dr Jaqueline Wiltshire revealed that sexual-transmitted diseases are on the rise. However, she made it clear that while there may be several reasons for the continued callous approach to sex by some Barbadians, the long-running recession was a contributing factor.
“There are some issues we find worrisome, such as the statistics as it relates to the increase of multi-partnering and the age at which people make their sexual debut. The reasons behind these behaviours are multifaceted. Some of them are cultural practices and some are linked to the recession. During a recession, you have more transactional sex and inter-generational sex,” she said during yesterday’s commemoration of World AIDS Day.
Wiltshire did not provide any numbers but according to UNAIDS statistics for 2018, Barbados had 3000 persons living with the disease.
However, this morning King suggested that the evidence points to a societal numbing regarding the seriousness of the disease. He argued that while he is happy that persons no longer see the disease as a death sentence, he is concerned that some may be losing sight of the importance of prevention.
“There is evidence of people being able to live really good lives with the disease and people now begin to say to themselves that it is not such a big deal anymore. People are considering the fact that there are antiviral drugs that we can use, so the attitude has changed again to that nonchalant approach,” said King.
He noted that Government will be ramping up the effort to reinforce the message of prevention as well as the need to stamp out discrimination against those living with the disease. King also argued these conversations must no longer be seen as only appropriate for adults, as the
cultural change necessary to combat the spread of the disease must begin at an early age.
“We must have continuous education and we must begin at an early age. Often times when we talk about sex, people believe that all we can do is have these adult conversations. The truth is that if you look at social media and even if you look at cartoons that our children watch, they are filled with subliminal messages on sex and these sorts of things,” said King.
“The time has come where we must mature to the point that we are comfortable discussing these sorts of topics with our young children because they are the ones who stand either to benefit or not benefit from the information,” he added.