C is for Carnival…and Condom

via Trinidad ExpressWHO warns: New HIV infections will occur through marital sex By GERARD BEST

Somebody's sleeping in your bed!

Michelle Sylvester's singsong chorus could assume a sinister undertone following a release from the World Health Organisation (WHO) that warns that many new HIV infections will occur through marital sex, usually from husband to wife. The WHO release exposes the fallacy that HIV/AIDS is a "gay phenomenon" and debunks the myth that marriage somehow offers automatic protection from HIV/AIDS.

More than that, the WHO message underscores that unfaithful sexual partners, married or otherwise, are key factors in the spread of HIV, giving the saucy soca song a dark dimension and serving to remind us all of the danger of HIV transmission by unprotected sexual contact during this Carnival season.

The songstress' chorus may prove to be of special worth to female revellers, though. All over the world, the proportion of women and girls infected with HIV is increasing. Half of the 39.4 million people now living with HIV/AIDS worldwide are women. In Trinidad and Tobago, in the 15-24 age group, 74 per cent of new infections are occurring among females. Overall, about half of all our new infections are occurring in females. This HIV transmission pattern has grave implications for the future of our society.

Rape and other forms of sexual violence is a key factor in the women's risk of contracting the virus. Especially for young women, the risk of vaginal microlesions, which are entry points for the virus, increases during coerced intercourse. Patricia St Bernard, executive director of the Rape Crisis Society of Trinidad and Tobago, emphasised the need to take responsibility for our own personal safety during the Carnival season, pointing to "a slight increase in the number of clients reporting rape after Carnival." However, although the Fact Sheet for World AIDS Day 2004, warns that one in five women will be a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime, the vast majority of HIV infections in women across the globe occur as a result of unprotected consensual intercourse with men.

In the Caribbean, some cultural realities favour the spread of the disease. For married or unmarried men in the Caribbean-the place with the second highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the world, with an estimated 440,000 people living with HIV/AIDS-multiple partners (including sex workers) are culturally accepted. This, in spite of the general knowledge that any form of sex with a commercial sex practitioner, whether oral, anal or vaginal, is extremely high-risk behaviour for the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Caribbean women and girls, in turn, face increased risk.

Dr Amery Browne, technical director of the National AIDS Coordinating Committee (NACC), said that the persistent infidelity "informs us that the information on HIV prevention should not just be polarised between abstinence and condom use, but must also include the message: 'Be Faithful'."

Here are some tips of personal safety from Rape Crisis Society of Trinidad and Tobago:

- When you go out, don't go alone. Remain in groups and avoid dark places.

If must walk alone however, walk on the side of the street which allows you to face oncoming traffic. If you suspect that a car is tailing you, do not divert from your original course. Always run in the same direction that you were heading initially.

- Arrange all transport to and from events beforehand. Most importantly, arrange transport to get back home.

Always tell someone where you are going and what time to expect you back home.

- Observe carefully how drinks are being prepared. Do not take drinks from strangers.

- Avoid getting intoxicated.

- Know where your car is parked. Have your keys with you so that you can open your car door right away.

- Women should not travel in cars with men only.

- Do not engage in any conversation with a stranger through the open window of a car.

- Do not give rides to strangers.

- Get a working cell phone and learn how to use it. A working knowledge of basic self-defense techniques is also an asset.