By Benjamin Flowers
This week the National AIDS Commission presented the findings of the 2014 Country Report on Knowledge, Practices, and Attitudes (KAP) toward persons living with HIV/AIDS, a study carried out by the Statistical Institute of Belize (SIB).
The data, which provided the most recent indicators and trends in prevailing sexual practices among the younger population, ages 15 to 24 years, and existing knowledge and attitudes toward PLHV in the wider population, 15 to 49 years, was presented at the Belize City ITVET on Wednesday.
The data showed that the mean age for the first sexual encounter among youths was 16.6 years, with the average being lower in Southern Belize. The data also showed that that 16.6 percent of Creole, 13.5 percent of Garifuna and about 8.6 percent of Mestizo/ Hispanic youths reported having had more than one sexual partner in the last 12 months, compared to 4.6 percent of Maya youth.
An observed trend in sexual encounters was that the Belize District had the highest rate of persons having more than one sex partner in the last 12 months (18.3 percent), followed by Corozal (11.7 percent) and Cayo (9.8 percent), while Orange Walk (5.1 percent) and Toledo 4.0 percent) had the lowest incidence.
Other trends observed by ethnicity were that the Maya community had the least knowledge of HIV transmission, and that condom use was lowest among Mestizo/Hispanic youths.
Gustavo Perrera, executive director of the NAC, explained that the data is used to help track the progress of the national response to the HIV issue, as well as collect data which will form part of the global HIV picture.
“Because there is very early sexual debut, 16.4 years in the case of 15 to 19 year-olds, it is a little bit lower; it means that there will have to be stepped up efforts for education – perhaps in partnership with parents and schools, because I believe there has to be some common ground in terms of the approach to sexual education among young people”, Perrera said.
He added that the reality is that young people, even before ten may be exposed to sexual education through the internet, social media, and through television.
The survey was funded by the Global Fund of the United Nations Development Program, and formed a part of the September, 2014 round of the Labour Force Survey. The SIB said that the relative margin of error at the national level should not exceed 0.20. The SIB random sampled some 2,800 households to obtain the data.