AIDS Linked To Tourism
Forty-four percent of tourists interviewed in a new University of the West Indies study said that sex was important in choosing the Bahamas as a destination.
But the study does not indicate whether those persons actually had sex when they came here, although it said that many teenage males see the islands as the perfect place to find girls with whom to lose their virginity.
The findings have researchers drawing a disturbing link between tourism, sex and HIV/AIDS.
Researchers interviewed 500 tourists in the Bahamas and Jamaica and found that 30 percent used their trip to the Bahamas to find new partners.
The report, commissioned by the University of the West Indies HIV/AIDS Response Programme (UWIHARP), also found that 50 percent of visitors did not feel that they were at risk for contracting HIV.
Research was conducted in Montego Bay, Negril, Ocho Rios and Nassau.
Researchers also carried out 60 in-depth interviews with people with HIV/AIDS, health workers, HIV/AIDS activists, human resource managers and policy makers, including those in the Bahamas.
Bernadette Saunders, Bahamas coordinator of Caribbean HIV/AIDS regional training, said Tuesday the researchers were here last month and are expected to return in the coming weeks to conduct follow-up research.
“If we are looking at preventing and decreasing the rate of HIV, we have to look at the tourism industry because a lot of behaviour as it pertains to sex occurs in the tourism industry,” Mrs. Saunders said.
She added, “A lot of tourists come here as prostitutes. Bahamians have sex with tourists. If we can determine where these people go to have sex we can target our prevention methods there. Persons who work in the tourism industry tend to have knowledge about where tourists or the general public go to have sex with tourists. Some people actually come to the Bahamas or other places for this type of diversion.”
Mrs. Saunders said some tourists pay taxi cab drivers and straw vendors for information on underground places in the Bahamas where they can go to “get kinky sex and find a prostitute.”
She added that researchers conducted what is known as convenient sampling from the streets.
“In some studies, it’s reliable and this is the kind of study that you need to do this kind of research. They obtained this information by carrying on a conversation with persons.”
Mrs. Saunders said she found the numbers disturbing.
“People feel like it can’t happen to them,” she said. “They still feel that only certain persons get HIV - homosexuals, drug addicts and people who run around. Everybody is at risk when they are having unprotected sex.”
Principal researcher Dr. Ian Boxill was quoted in the Jamaican press as saying, “I cannot definitively say that high numbers of HIV in the tourist areas is linked to sex tourism, but I can say if you look at all the factors, there must be some impact.”
The Jamaican Gleaner also reported that researchers painted a picture of sex tourism, where hotels promoted staff-visitor liaisons, where casual sex occurred among locals and tourists, of sex tourism without safe sex practices and of a regional network where girls and men from the Bahamas, Jamaica, Cuba, and Haiti frequently sell sex in each country.
Mrs. Saunders said local officials were awaiting the report and will continue their education programme.
She reported earlier this week that new cases of HIV in the Bahamas have dropped from 362 in 2002 to 275 at the end of 2003.