Shining A Light After Dark

Speeches Shim

Tuesday, December 1, 2020
Jerome Burke, Communications Coordinator for Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL) and co-host of JASL After Dark.
Jerome Burke/JASL

“What irritates me, I am still hearing to this very day when I go into focus groups, people tell me that their family members separate their utensils out of fear of contracting HIV. At times I get so enraged when I hear these accounts because I know this is not true, but then I have to take a step back. I need to reassess and figure out what I need to do as a communicator to ensure people are getting the right information and understanding more about the virus,” says 27-year-old Jerome Burke.

Jerome, the communications coordinator at the Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL), is one half of a dynamic duo that hosts the program JASL After Dark, an online talk-show that airs live on Wednesdays at 8pm. The program, which began in 2018, aims to reach key populations through social media platforms and provide them with vital information concerning their sexual health. The program also aims to normalize conversations about HIV issues.  
“Each week, we invite social media personalities and key stakeholders to give their views on current topics. We have covered topics around condom usage, being gay and trans in Jamaica, sex and religion, people living with HIV, and accessing treatment and PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis). We also use the show to push the organization’s broader prevention and treatment messages,” says Jerome.  

An advocate for HIV for the last three years, Jerome says his priority right now is identifying the gaps to get the message out so that more people can understand the truth behind the HIV virus. “Stigma and discrimination is real so at JASL what we try to do is form strategic partnerships with individuals and organizations who are willing to push the message around HIV, to educate and spread awareness not only to those living with the virus but to the wider community.”

Currently, there are an estimated 32,617 Jamaicans living with HIV in Jamaica. While the prevalence rate in the general population is estimated at 1.8%, surveys show higher rates in key subpopulations, with the majority of cases being between the ages of 20-59 years.

In 2009, under the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief  (PEPFAR), the United States established its first efforts to combat HIV in the Caribbean and created a regional HIV prevention and treatment program. Through PEPFAR and USAID, more than 600,000 people in Jamaica have received HIV counseling and testing since 2012. Today, USAID provides assistance to JASL to ensure that services are provided to targeted populations that are most at risk.

During the COVID-19 pandemic Jerome used the medium of his online program to boost the organization’s “With You All the Way” six-month online communications campaign that highlights the support from USAID, JASL, and key stakeholders to vulnerable communities, including those living with or affected by HIV. “The communications campaign did make a difference to the audience and was indeed very necessary as this was the time the clients who are immuno-compromised were staying in. So the information helped them to take the necessary precautions as required to stay in, stay safe and stay on their medications,” says Jerome.

“JASL After Dark has definitely kept me current, entertained and most importantly sex informed--from talking about the increasing numbers of persons contracting COVID-19 to sex education and insights on the latest sex topics. I look forward to Wednesday nights because of the riveting conversations facilitated by the hosts and the openness of the platform,” says Tariq, who watches the program.

JASL After Dark currently reaches about 1,000 people weekly, but it is Jerome’s hope that it will expand even further. Though relatively small in terms of general reach, the program is essential and potentially lifesaving for each of its listeners.  “My hope is that one day JASL After Dark would be picked up by a mainstream radio station, and it would be received well by a lot more Jamaicans, because the information is extremely rich with frank and open discussions.” 

This critical niche connection (and impact) are why USAID supports JASL After Dark to not only exist, but to expand. Jason Fraser, Country Representative for USAID in Jamaica, highlighted the need to ensure that the strategies and resources being implemented are aligned to serving the most-in-need. “We need to address the barriers that prevent care and treatment for those living with the virus, ensuring that they are diagnosed, get on treatment, stay on treatment and live healthy lifestyles free from stigma and discrimination. It is therefore critical that our messaging be strategic, and JASL has found creative yet effective methods to reach their target audience and yield  positive results. We want efforts like this to succeed.”

About the Author
Kimberley Weller is the Development Outreach and Communications Specialist for USAID/Jamaica.