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A recent study conducted for the United Nations agency - UNAIDS - indicates the HIV infection is spreading rapidly among Caribbean youth. The report suggests one reason for this is the lax sexual behaviour occurring as a result of increased drug activity in the Caribbean.

South American drug traffickers are increasingly abandoning Mexico and are using the Caribbean to get their product to American addicts. According to UNAIDS consultant, Christine Norton, "the caribbean was a transit point for drugs moving from South to North America and Europe, but now drugs are actually being used in the Caribbean and of course the traffickers try to pull in so that the most vulnerable groups to get these drugs sold and i think young people are definitely being affected by that."

Ms. Norton says this is not the case in every caribbean country. The Dominican Republic and Haiti suffer most from the trafficking, primarily because of their close proximity to the united states. The Bahamas is even closer to the United States but the Islands appears not to have a drug usage problem.

Ms. Norton says she conducted her study using data from many agencies working with young people including UNICEF and the Caribbean Epidemiology Centre. Figures from the Epidemiology Centre for its 18 member states indicate that by the end of 1996, nearly a thousand cases of AIDS had been reported among 20 to 24 year olds and more than 15-hundred among 25 to 29 year olds.

The data shows caribbean children are beginning to have sex at early ages and many do not understand the ramifications of such activity. A survey among 15-hundred youth in Trinidad and Tobago found that among those who had previously engaged in sexual intercourse, about 50-percent of the males and 53-percent of the females felt that they were not at risk of contracting HIV.

The same study found evidence of the onset of early sexual intercourse. Some children began at ages 11 and 12 and 16 was the median age.

A survey in Barbados found eight percent of 10 year olds had initiated sexual intercourse as did 50-percent of the 16-year- olds.

Ms. Norton says her research found HIV programs in the Caribbean are generally too content-based. She says they lack the opportunities for young people to participate in role playing exercises where they could develop their own responses to real life situations but that there are a couple of good examples of youth centres worth replication. One is in Martinique and the other, in Antigua.
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