FOR many, Carnival is a time to 'free up', but it is also a high-risk period for transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, yet there has been a dismal lack of HIV prevention programmes especially during this time of the year, laments founder and project coordinator of RED Initiatives, O'Leo Lokai.
"Prevention is better than cure, not only should there be ongoing HIV prevention throughout the year, but given that the Carnival season is also a high risk season, the focus should be on prevention and behaviour change programmes. Carnival is about enjoying yourself, but be responsible and protect yourself. You don't want to end the Carnival season with regret," Lokai cautions.
RED initiatives is a non-profit organisation that promotes HIV/STI prevention in areas of research, education and access to services (testing) with a focus on most at risk populations - sex workers, the homeless, migrants, at risk youth and high risk males including men who have sex with men (MSM).
Lokai also stressed that there has been little funding for HIV prevention programmes to non-governmental organisations since 2010. As a result, some
NGOs have had to stop their programmes while others like RED have had to scale down their campaigns and use their own personal resources, he said.
Lokai says there ought to be a joint national campaign geared towards safe-sex education and HIV-prevention which coincides with the Carnival period each year. He said there should be age-appropriate sex education and HIV/STI prevention and human rights advocacy in primary, secondary and tertiary institutions.
He added that HIV awareness campaigns should be heightened around Carnival time to combat the over-sexed media and advertising.
"What we need are ongoing community based programmes for both the general population and most-at-risk-populations in areas of behaviour change and access to health and other social services inclusive of HIV testing and prevention education," he stated.
He added that NGOs and CSOs should be supported in their services as they have the relationships with the communities in most need of interventions.
"To reduce HIVand AIDS and reach the target of zero infection, deaths and discrimination set by the United Nations, we need to become sustainable in our work," said Lokai.
While Lokai says abstinence is the most effective way of HIV and STI prevention, he also advises:
•Always walk with your own condoms
•Know your limit with alcohol and other substances
•Reduce your risk- no need to go all the way.
•Keep to your partner
•Get tested regularly
•Know your rights
For more information, contact Red Initiatives at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 687-6536, 301-0690 or 664-1863.