206770 Status attainment among high schoolers in the Caribbean

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Marlene A. Pantin, DrPH , Center for Drug Use and HIV Research, College of Nursing, New York University, New York, NY
Background: Although AIDS deaths are declining among adults in Trinidad and Tobago (T&T), HIV rates are still increasing among adolescents. This study examined sex and drug use behaviors among high school students 12-18 years old residing in T&T.

Method: Eight focus groups (N=67) among high school students and 19 key informant interviews were conducted as part of a larger multi-method study. Focus group sessions elicited data on personal and peer group sexual and drug use behavior. Key informant data were used to triangulate the findings from the focus group reports.

Results: Focus group participants identified status attainment as an important factor shaping HIV risk behaviors among their peers. Status was attained by participating in high risk behaviors such as substance use, and engaging in concurrent sexual relationships often involving unprotected sex with both high school peers and adult taxi drivers. Achieving status resulted in increased popularity, power and influence among students. The effectiveness of these status-earning strategies differed by gender. Contrary to boys, girls who participated in such behaviors were ostracized by some of their peers. This alienating experience exposed girls to further HIV risk by reproducing their patterns of sexual risk-taking.

Conclusion: Experimentation, perceived invulnerability to diseases, and gaining the acceptance and respect of one's peers characterize adolescence. High schoolers in T&T exposed themselves to HIV risk by engaging in risky behaviors in their attempt to earn status among their peers. Sex and substance use education and access to HIV testing for adolescents are imperative for HIV risk reduction.

Learning Objectives:
1. Discuss the need for youth specific HIV prevention and intervention programs. 2. Provide knowledge of the contextual and structural factors that are influencing HIV risk among youth in Trinidad and Tobago. 3. Describe the importance of sex education and HIV testing in limiting youth exposure to HIV infection.

Keywords: Adolescents, International, HIV Risk Behavior

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: MPH, and Doctoral Candidate
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.