"We don't know who to trust...only your 'best friend' knows your secret and only he/she can reveal it" said Bob Marley, a renowned reggae artist. Politicians, health care providers, guidance counselors, teachers, parents and pastors--are these individuals truly our 'best friends'?
In Jamaica, HIV/AIDS has become an irreversible, non-competitive inhibitor to the standard of living, social viability, and ecology of the body and composure of young people regardless of sexuality, ethnicity, class, race, or culture. Even at present, the thought of being infected scares me. The reality for my friend was different. An intelligent young man, who was ready to take on the world, never knew what was in store for him around the corner. On July 15, 2004, his exuberance, dreams and aspirations were robbed by his aggressors who raped him at the age of 18. Four months later he was diagnosed with HIV.
According to the UNAIDS 2006 HIV/AIDS statistics, throughout the world, almost 6,000 youth ages 15 to 24 are infected with HIV every day. What does this statistic portray about the young people of the world? Far too often we are uneducated and mislead by our parents and the leaders of our society about sexuality, sexual intercourse, and HIV/AIDS. Furthermore, Jamaica is seen as a Christian country, yet the churches fail to educate the young people within their congregation and surrounding communities about HIV/AIDS. As a result, we are not informed about how to make right and responsible decisions about our sexual health and we become more vulnerable and susceptible to sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
The proliferation of HIV/AIDS among Jamaica's young people is alarming. Being sexually active is common among our peers. I can vividly recall the silence around discussing sex and sexuality issues in school and church. It was in 1999, my final year in junior high school, when almost all the girls that I had grown up with in school had dropped out because of pregnancy. Who are we to blame?
Contemporary Jamaican society is one of disparity, confusion, and obscurity. The government has said that youth are the priority of the nation, but clearly we are not number one among the long list of government priorities. The breach of confidentiality by health care providers and the lack of youth-friendly services is a crucial concern among young people. The fear of the repercussions of being stigmatized and discriminated against is reflected in the young people’s reluctance to seek health care.
Although the Jamaican National HIV/AIDS policy's non-discrimination clause states "In respect for human rights and dignity of persons infected or affected by HIV/AIDS, there should be no discrimination against workers on the basis of real or perceived HIV status," this is not the reality in practice in the Jamaican work environment.
Homophobia also plays a detrimental role once you are perceived as a 'batty man,' or gay, by wider society. Research indicates that homophobia in Jamaica is a powerful cultural influence which forces HIV/AIDS infected and affected young gay men from accessing medical care. I strongly believe that the political and wider Jamaican society needs to reform its approach to homosexuality in order to reduce the HIV transmission rate among young gay men.
When I look within my society, I see a lack of unity and a lack of understanding of the immense amount of struggles and suffering young people undergo. Which leads back to the question, "Where are our best friends?"