LOOP: As more COVID-effected restrictions are relaxed and Antigua and Barbuda heads further into a state of normalcy, residents are being urged to practice safe sex.
The country’s entertainment sector has re-commenced to the delight of thousands, with social events – including fetes and bar crawls – taking place across the twin-island nation almost daily.
And that pace is likely to pick up as the months go by, culminating in the revelry that is carnival in July/August. The annual summer festival has, due to the pandemic, been on ice for the past two years.
Now, with this buzzing social scene comes an increase in the likelihood of casual sexual encounters, especially when one considers that the population has been cooped up for so long.
But the country’s Programme Manager for HIV/AIDS, Delcora Williams, is urging residents to be mindful of the threat that HIV still poses and not get lost in the desperation to ‘relieve themselves’.
“I think everybody should realise that, yes COVID-19 was here, but HIV hasn’t gone anywhere. So, the risks that were there before are still there.
“The risks in having unprotected sex with someone have not decreased, because that person could have HIV and you could expose yourself to contracting and testing positive for HIV”, Williams warned.
She encouraged persons to adopt good sexual health practices – like using condoms during sexual activity, minimising the number of sexual partners and, of course, getting tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) – and to exercise sound judgement when making decisions about sexual activity.
The Programme Manager also spoke on how the ongoing pandemic has disrupted her department’s HIV testing regime, and how that could prove detrimental both now and in the future.
“We changed the whole process of testing because of the pandemic, so where [prior to COVID] a person could just walk in and get a test done, now we make appointments because we have to clean properly after each person.
“[So] we might not see the results of COVID-19 on HIV yet, because unless you get routinely tested every year, you would not know that you had become infected during the COVID period.
“We might see the effects in about six years when a person starts getting ill, then they go to the doctor, do an HIV test and the doctor tells them that they are infected”, she explained.
According to recent statistics, there are approximately 900 people living with HIV in Antigua and Barbuda.
The HIV/AIDS Programme Manager has previously suggested, however, that the actual figure could be much higher.