Innovate ways to target the youth

With the millions of new HIV infections predicted among young people in future, this is a clear indication that the HIV/AIDS pandemic will not be halted until our youth are capacitated enough to desist from behaviours that put them at risk.

Existing data reveals that in every generation that comes of age, there is a substantial increase in the rate of HIV infection as individuals enter their late teens and early twenties, with infection rates peaking in the mid-to-late twenties.

A recent study by the National Cancer Institute, part of World Health Organisation (WHO), has confirmed this disturbing state of affairs.

In many countries like Namibia, programmes that are tailored to reduce young people's risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), as well as unwanted pregnancies are too fragmented, and short-sighted.

For instance, some young people may be taught about HIV/AIDS and other STIs at school, but many others who are not in school receive almost no HIV/STD or contraceptive education.

Those responsible for developing interventions programmes often develop messages that focus solely on reducing problem behaviours, and funding streams for these prevention programmes often limit the ability of providers to meet young people's needs holistically.

In other words, HIV/STDs and pregnancy prevention programmes provide many young people with the sexual health knowledge, skills, and services they need – but, many youth still lack the motivation to avoid HIV, STDs, and unintended pregnancy.

Therefore, it is important that young people are provided with holistic information that will help them to change their behaviour and protect themselves against HIV and AIDS.

Education planners and other stakeholders, who deal with HIV/AIDS, need to come up with innovative ways of crafting messages that will have an impact on young people’s lives. 

For example, short films involving the youth can be an effective tool of communication that can be used to send the message home.

In our age, young people engrossed on entertainment and, therefore, idolise many actors/actresses in the show business. Hence, authorities could bring in popular figures in the entertainment sector to help educate the youth about the dangers of HIV/AIDS.

Experience shows that young people tend to think that their close relatives are the only ones that matter most. Therefore, it is important that we engage parents and relatives of young people to assist educate them about the risks of contracting HIV and other STDs.

These two groups can be play an important role in sensitising young people that engaging in sexually activity at a tender age has negative conquences.

Experience shows that most teenagers engage in sex, as a way to get recognition or validation by their peers that they are cool, or worthy to some extent.

In saying that I feel that more empowering and self-esteem building campaigns should be mixed in with HIV prevention messages and promoted on today’s youth social networks such as YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and so on.

Youth need outreach wherever it is they spend their time. Show them that safe sex is the coolest thing in the world.

If they are made to realise that their well-being is highly valuable that they need to be responsible – they are likely to desist from behaviour that puts them at risk of HIV/AIDS.

Young people also need to be involved in the designing of health programmes targeting them. Programmes that fully engage young people have an excellent chance of success because “ownership” of the programme shifts to the young people themselves.

Also for HIV/AIDS prevention programmes to be effective, they must combine information, life skills and behavioural change activities with actions to address the social issues that make adolescents and young people vulnerable to HIV and lead them to engage in risk behaviours.

Education is an important avenue that can be used to reach out to the youth. There is strong evidence that school-based sex education can be effective in changing the knowledge, attitudes and practices that lead to risk behaviour.

June 2014
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