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Misconceptions, Culture and Clinical Reasoning: Aberdeen’s Sexual Health and Wellbeing Amongst Afro-Caribbean Diaspora Event

By Janine Elizabeth Ewen:

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – A quote presented at the health forum (Martin Luther King)

The first of its kind on the subject information health event took place at the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen on the sexual health and wellbeing of the UK’s Afro-Caribbean population, with a closer insight into Scotland.

The free professional development forum received sponsorship from NHS Grampian Sexual Health and Blood Borne Virus Managed Care Network and the African Health Project Waverley Care, attracting an audience of; researchers, volunteers, charities, doctors and public health professionals and members of the community, making up a diverse range of stakeholders to listen, discuss, communicate, but most importantly to action change.

It was clear the forum had specific aims to cover during the four hours. These surrounded dispelling misconceptions, determining risks around clinical interventions and the health benefits for an individual with an additional presentation on the work of a third sector African health project branching out into the Scottish cities.

Dr Adaeze Ifezulike, a leading family Physician/GP and author of "Understanding Contraception" opened up the day by introducing global UK and Scottish statistics of poor sexual health, however set the scene by reminding us that sexual health and wellbeing also includes pregnancy, abortion and blood borne viruses.

“Many African minorities come to Scotland, especially Aberdeen because of the oil capital status and prospectus employment in the industry.

Around 5000 - 15000 of African minorities have Hepatitis C in the UK, including being the second largest group affected by HIV/AIDS. A total of 4634 live in Scotland with HIV/AIDS. In 2013 there were 354 newly diagnosed cases of Scotland, almost one a day, while 12,447 women in Scotland underwent an abortion.

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“Abortions costs £600, but for a packet of condoms is it £2.00 in the shops or free from sexual health clinics.”

Dr Ifezulike concluded by saying, it wasn’t all bad news, there are means available to facilitate positive sexual health, and so what is going wrong?

Dr Winifred Eboh elaborated further on cultural misconceptions that affect sexual behaviour and taking risks, but stated that culture was not to be dismissed or disregarded.

“We should be welcoming culture; it resonates with our beliefs, traditions and makes up every element of our lives. Health professionals cannot look at sexual health and wellbeing out with a cultural context. ”

Dr Eboh included the media’s influence on our thoughts and perceptions in society, especially in health. Children in parts of Africa had begun to develop their own campaigns, especially around dispelling myths that they could help cure HIV/AIDS

Children myth: “Sex with me doesn’t cure your AIDS” – advertisement poster in South Africa

Gender and sexual health was also highlighted, especially as the woman is still believed to have full responsibility for contraception, when it is recommended for equality for both a man and a woman to share this role.

Gender myth: – “contraception is a woman’s business”

What was particularly shocking that the myths presented around HIV/AIDS were believed by audience members to have surrounded judgement twenty years ago; unfortunately these messages still creep into health promotional messages, the media and passed by those who have heard through sources which are often incorrect.

Contracting HIV myths: “If you shake a hand with someone who has HIV, you will become positive”.

“HIV can be easily detected by looking at a person.”

There is no doubt that the African communities in the UK, including Scotland are still faced with on-going stigma, discrimination, which would hold back any individual irrespective of race from wanting to seek the support of health services. It was apparent that the audience were in agreement that it is the societal circumstances that can reduce sexual health and wellbeing for the African community. It is not necessarily the case that they bring HIV/AIDS or blood borne viruses to a new country, but the above barriers in accessing treatments and services can be the onset of these lifted rates.

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Dr Daniela Brawley, a specialist in HIV working in Aberdeen discussed the availability in treatments, especially the types of contraception, but with the added risks and benefits.

“It is about weighing up the risks in contraception. We would not recommend some of our contraceptive pills for elderly women, however there are options including the coil that act to support women, but doesn’t require taking a pill on a daily basis, because people do forget.”

Dr Brawley was faced with a question regarding immigration, particularly illegal immigrants and accessing health support when individuals don’t have a passport or any form of identification.

She replied, “It can be difficult, but sexual health clinics are not linked to medical practices, so people can still have a means of accessing treatment with the added benefit of confidentiality and not having to hold the fear of deportation.”

The World Health Organisation suggests that there are 7 billion people in this world and 100 million acts of sex per day take place. Those who work in this field whether through the National Health Service or charity sector must work to find ways of not only promoting services, but integrating the people in our society together to prevent these on-going misconceptions, leading to poor sexual health and wellbeing outcomes.