Educating the youth key to HIV/AIDS fight

HIV/AIDS continues to wreak havoc among the adolescents throughout the globe.

A third of the people infected by the virus are youths aged between 15 and 24.  

Out of 34 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the world, 3.3 million of are reportedly young people under the age of 15 to 24.

About 1.7 million new adolescent HIV infections ‑ over half of the world's total ‑ occur in sub-Saharan Africa, according to a UNAIDS report on the Global HIV/AIDS Epidemic.

In fact, nearly 70 percent of people living with HIV/AIDS live in sub-Saharan Africa, and over 80 percent of AIDS deaths have occurred.

Although HIV/AIDS rates vary considerably throughout sub-Saharan Africa, the epidemic has had a devastating effect on youths, who often lack access to sexual health information and services.

In particular, those that are not married have great difficulty getting needed sexual health services.

At the same time, cultural, social, and economic norms and pressures often put young sub-Saharan African women at high risk of HIV infection.

The high HIV prevalence among the youth is worrying, especially since HIV transmission is preventable.

It is unbelievable that each year hundreds of thousands of young people catch the virus.

One may agree with me that young people do not have appropriate access to quality HIV and sexual education as well as reproductive health services that could save their lives.

A UNESCO study in 2009 found that in Eastern and Southern Africa, children had “low levels of knowledge” regarding HIV/AIDS, which was attributed to, among other factors, lack of teacher training, lack of examination for students on the topic and, therefore, little incentive to teach it and uneaseness teaching the subject resulting from embarrassment.

But because young people are engaging in premature sex, early HIV education has become more and more imperative.

Providing knowledge and skills can encourage young people to avoid or reduce behaviours that carry the risk of HIV infection.

Even for young people who are not yet engaging in risky behaviours, AIDS education is important for ensuring that they are prepared for situations that will put them at risk as they grow older.

Educating young people about HIV and AIDS requires discussions about sensitive subjects such as sex and drug use.

In some cultures and belief systems, talking about sex to young people is taboo and many people believe that it is inappropriate to talk to young people about these subjects and fear that doing so will encourage young people to indulge in risky behaviours.

Most of this perception is mainly based on moral or religious views rather than scientific evidence, and severely limit AIDS education around the world.

There is substantial evidence showing that educating young people about safer sex and the importance of using condoms does not lead to increase in sexual activity.

In order to prevent new HIV infections, there is a need for comprehensive information campaigns on HIV targeting the youth.

HIV/AIDS education also helps to reduce stigma and discrimination, by dispelling false information that leads to fear and blame.

This is crucial for prevention, as stigma often makes people unwilling to be tested for HIV and individuals that are unaware of their status are more likely to pass the virus on to others

I strongly believe that well-designed and well-implemented HIV prevention programmes can significantly reduce risky behaviours among youth.  

Apart from the fact that schools are critical settings for preparing students academically, they can also be vital partners in helping the young take responsibility for their own health.

School health programmes can help youth adopt lifelong attitudes and behaviours that support overall health and well-being, including behaviours that can reduce their risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Not only do schools have the capacity to reach a large number of young people, students are also particularly receptive to learning new information.

I also detect that teachers themselves somehow lack experience dealing with these issues in class.

Therefore, there is need to come up with a special teacher training to enable them to discuss this issue openly without letting personal values conflict with the health needs of the students.

Parent communication and monitoring should also play an important role in reaching youth early with prevention messages. It is only through education that we can unlock the entry to HIV free generation.

August 2013
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