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By year end 50 condom vending machines should be installed at strategic locations to make it easy for anyone – including students – to purchase condoms.

This is one of the moves by the National AIDS Secretariat to stem the spread of the dreaded disease especially among the youth.

Head of the National Aids Secretariat, Dr Del Hamilton, said she was concerned that secondary school students were not changing their sexual behaviour at the rate that she would like to see.{{more}}

A recent survey conducted by the Caribbean Epidemiology Centre (CAREC) shows that over 80 per cent of students between the ages of 10-14 know that unprotected sex is the main route through which HIV is spread yet they continue having unprotected sex judging by the “regular instances” of teenage pregnancies.

Dr Hamilton told SEARCHLIGHT HEALTH that the problem is not inadequate knowledge but rather the turning of this knowledge into action. She also insisted that despite the increase in sexual activity among the youth abstinence must still be part of the message.

“We should not assume that they are all having sex,” Hamilton advised. She contends that youths have the ability to control themselves and make wise choices adding that all sectors of society must work together toward this end.

She said that the AIDS Secretariat is working with the Ministry of Education in the area of outreach and training. Sessions have been organized with teachers, librarians and other staff members on HIV education and the skills needed to effectively pass the message on to the young people in the schools.

Despite the growing concerns, the AIDS secretariat chief would not support any initiative to place condoms within schools – even though students should be taught how to use condoms. She pleaded with condom vendors at stores or pharmacies to be accommodating to students who seek to purchase condoms regardless of their feelings about the choice they are about to make.

“At least they are trying to protect themselves, we should not push them away,” said Hamilton.

By year’s end fifty condom vending machines should be installed at strategic locations to make it easy for anyone – including students – to purchase condoms.

Another major problem is stigma and discrimination. The CAREC survey showed that only 55 per cent of the 10-14 age students polled said that they would accept an HIV positive student in their school and a lower fifty per cent said they would accept an infected teacher.

Since the AIDS epidemic broke out in 1984, up to July 2006 there have been fifty cases of persons testing positive in the age group 15-19, the prime secondary school age range. Two 14 year-olds tested positive as recently as July this year.

Hamilton said her unit was cognizant of the gravity of the situation and continued to work feverishly to educate the population on prevention and treatment of the dreaded disease. One such move was a peer counseling camp held in March with students from 19 secondary schools. She said that they were aware that sometimes a youth preferred to speak to someone his or her own age, hence the initiative.