Culture | Lifestyle | Science Helping the region respond to HIV How we can reduce the transmission of HIV in the Caribbean by getting into GEARS By Caribbean Beat | Issue 90 (March/April 2008) 0 Comments The Caribbean is one of the most beautiful regions in the world. It is also amongst the world’s most diverse regions, with dynamic, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural nation states and territories. One of its key features is a fluid and mobile population and a high level of intra- and extra-regional migration, which to a great extent is a result of tourism. The tourism industry is responsible for the creation of many jobs in the hospitality, cleaning, transportation and construction sectors. Coupled with the Caribbean’s strategic location between North and South America, these jobs turn the region into a magnet for people from many countries looking for opportunities, and a springboard for skilled workers. Mobile populations are generally more susceptible to diseases and health risks. Poor health conditions during the journey, socio-economic obstacles, and the cultural and language differences, increase migrants’ vulnerability. They have less access to care and prevention services, and this, combined with an environment prone to risk-taking, increases the chances of migrants and their social networks to acquire sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. The HIV epidemic reaches important segments of the Caribbean population. AIDS has been one of the leading causes of death in the region among people between 22 and 44. According to UNAIDS, by 2007, 230,000 people were living with HIV, 11,000 died of AIDS-related illnesses, and 17,000 others were infected. The Dominican Republic and Haiti are home to close to three quarters of those living with HIV in the Caribbean. Unprotected sex continues to be the major risk for HIV transmission, and 43 per cent of new infections happen amongst women. Anyone can be exposed to the virus, old or young, regardless of their race, nationality, income, sexual orientation or immigration status. Every time someone engages in activities where body fluids are exchanged, there is risk of contracting the virus. Some people think they are safe because they are married, or in a relationship, or because they feel their sexual practices do not involve risks. Unfortunately these assumptions may be incorrect. To contribute to the response to HIV and AIDS, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) partnered with the Art Center College of Design to create an HIV prevention campaign for the English-speaking countries of the Caribbean. The campaign is designed to motivate migrants and mobile populations, particularly young people, to think about the need to prevent HIV. It includes animated spots for television which can be watched at http://www.iom.int/unitedstates/mh/Migration%20and%20Health.htm. How can we reduce the transmission of HIV in the Caribbean, and how can we support the migrant population to protect itself from the virus? The best way is to get into GEARS: • Get tested. Knowledge is power: power to take action. • Educate yourself. Gain knowledge about ways to protect yourself, and use protection every time you engage in sexual activity. • Apply this knowledge. Make a plan for yourself, decide what means of protection you are going to use, and stick to it. It is your life, your decision, your health. • Respect yourself and others. Use protection every time, to protect yourself and those you love. • Share. Talk about it with your loved ones to help them know how to protect themselves. AIDS affects us all, but everyone can make a difference. If you want to contribute to the response to HIV in the Caribbean, get into GEARS, and talk about it with your family and friends, so they can also get into GEARS.