Alarmed that young people are continuing to engage in unprotected sexual activities thereby increasing their vulnerability to contracting the HIV virus, the medical officer attached to Clare Hall Health Centre is appealing to parents and other adults in the community to break the taboo surrounding sex and find ways to discuss the subject with their children.
Dr Maria Pereira said the high numbers of teenage pregnancies which have been occurring over the years, in addition to figures released by the AIDS Secretariat that showed there were 52 new cases of HIV diagnosed this year, have borne out her position.
“In spite of all the education and the information that is being given out, sad to say, our young people do tend to engage in sexual activity without using condoms,” Dr Pereira said yesterday on OBSERVER AM. “So it looks as if even though a person is hearing the information, it hasn’t had its impact on their lives.
“For the whole of last year there were 46, so there has been an increase and, in fact, the majority of persons who have been diagnosed this year are persons between 15 and 34.”
The medical officer offered a number of suggestions for parents who may be uncomfortable about discussing sexual matters with their children.
“These days we have the Internet, so if a parent doesn’t know what to say, is not equipped with (the age-appropriate terms), you can go on the Internet and type in ‘how to talk to my child about sex’,” she said. Also, “talking to other parents about how they handled it, (and) reading books, because we have to get the information out, even if it’s taboo.”
In the face of the growing pandemic, Dr Pereira pointed out that both verbal and non-verbal communication are important for young people to understand the consequences of contracting HIV in order to make informed decisions.
“There has to be some internalisation of what is happening and then to make the decision, that choice, and it’s very hard to make that choice … These things have to be taught, have to role play how to resist peer pressure, but it comes from that person making the decision, ‘I don’t want to get HIV, so as a school child, I will abstain’,” she added.
“So until a person (especially school children) can say ‘I have decided not to have sex, to protect myself … I’m not going to follow the habit of all the gentlemen in my community of having multiple relationships’, then things will not change,” the doctor said.