By Sonia Boddie
In some countries across the globe, the month of April is observed as Sexually Transmitted Disease or STD Awareness month. The month is used to heighten public awareness about STDs, the negative impact they can have on our lives, and the importance of taking the necessary prevention measures. The safety of our sexual health and well-being, is dependent on engaging in responsible sexual behaviours, such as using condoms during sexual intercourse, remaining faithful to one partner, and by getting tested for STDs at least annually, if not biannually.
Sonia Boddie is Caricom Youth Ambassador of the Federation of St Kitts and Nevis. She holds a BSc in International Relations and a Masters in Public Administration. She is the 2011 British Chevening Scholar and a 2011 Caribbean-Canada Emerging Leader.
Currently, there is no month set aside in the Federation of St Kitts and Nevis for the observance of STD Awareness. However, despite this fact, I believe that major discussions surrounding STDs and other issues, should not be limited to one month. Nonetheless, it is possibly something that can be considered by our ministry of health, to raise the level of public discourse about these diseases, which can affect all of us, both young and old, since by our very nature we are sexual beings.
There are many STDs that exist, which not only have the potential to affect us temporarily, but can drain our lives to the point of death. Some of these are more popularly known than others, which include but are not limited to HIV/AIDS, Chlamydia, Genital Herpes, Gonorrhea, Hepatitis B, Human Papiloma Virus/HPV, Syphilis and Trichomoniasis, just to name few.
Despite the body of literature that exist relating to STDs, and the frightening images of infected persons that are available, at our healthcare facilities, and on the worldwide web, it is my opinion that the message is not being spread, heard or understood, widely enough about STD prevention. The onus is upon each and every one of us, to be responsible, and “to protect ourselves, before we wreck ourselves.”
As my dialogue and interaction with residents over the last few months has increased through my youth ambassadorship responsibilities, especially with the young people, I have recognized that many are yet to realize the seriousness of STDs, and thereby continue to live some very carefree, careless and irresponsible lifestyles.
I can recall a conversation I had with a young man recently, where he divulged that at present, he is currently juggling six women, who are placed in two separate categories depending on their financial worth to him, but all of which he engages in sexual intercourse, unbeknownst to each other. I am also reminded of a discussion I had with a few young ladies, who despite admitting they were sexually active, have not had a Pap Smear in a very long time, and have not even considered getting tested for STDs, and who saw absolutely no reason, why they should have one done, since their minds are telling them “me safe, nothing go happen to me.”
It is important to highlight, that these untroubled attitudes are not only present in our youth, but also in our adults. I have been reliably informed of cases where adult women engage in sexual relationships with multiple men for money, to meet their wants and needs, and instead of recording them by names in their mobiles, list them as rent, lights, water, cable, internet and clothes, as their list of partners is exhaustive. To some this may seem laughable, but to others this is the gate being thrown open for STDs to potentially flood in, and significantly damage their lives and that of their families.
I can also vividly recall a conversation I had with an adult male last December, during the HIV/AIDS Live Up Day event, where as a volunteer I walked around summoning persons to take advantage of the free HIV/AIDS tests that were being conducted. After attempting to encourage the gentleman to become aware of his status, by getting tested, he remarked bold facedly, “I don’t need to get tested, I have sex with girls that look nice like you.” Despite being a little surprised at his answer, I then came to the realization that in the minds of some persons, there is a certain appearance or look that is had, by carriers of STDs.
Hence, it is important for me to stress, that in very few cases, one can accurately determine whether someone is or is not a carrier of an STD, by simply looking at their outward appearance.
My people, it is therefore time for each and every one of us, to aggressively take STD prevention by the horn, and Live Up, Love, Protect and Respect ourselves and our partners, realizing that even though the thought of possibly contracting an STD can sound like a small bark, it can nonetheless, take a huge bite out of our productive lives.