Need to overhaul abstinence and faithfulness HIV and AIDS preventive strategies

 

Africa needs to repackage the concept of abstinence and being faithful in order it to become a viable prevention strategy in the fight against HIV and AIDS as the current strategy seems not to be bearing fruits.

It is a proven fact that abstinence is the most effective means of protection against both unwanted pregnancies and HIV.

With sex being the primary cause of HIV transmission, it is unlikely for a person to contract the disease if he or she does not have sex.

However, in countries like Namibia, abstinence appears not to be widely practiced even though young people have positive attitudes towards the idea. The high rate of teenage pregnancies is an indication that young people are indeed having unprotected sex.

When introduced, the concept of abstinence was aimed to delay sexual debut among teenagers in order to reduce the period of high risk during adolescence, especially for girls, and to reduce multiple partners.

In most of the countries the concept of abstinence may easily become strongly linked with religion since it is particularly emphasized by faith-based organizations.

Another difficulty lies in communicating the message correctly. Abstaining from sex does not means to live a celibate life but it is delaying indulging in sexual activities until you are married.

 In Namibia, for example, the message has partly been understood as a call for lifelong abstinence and not as an appeal to stay away from sex until marriage.

As a consequence of these realities, promoting abstinence easily ends up in portraying a lifestyle that is in stark contrast to the realities of young people, making them struggle to practise abstinence as a lifesaving strategy.

Regardless of these challenges I strongly believe that to abstain from sex remains a relevant and practicable option, particularly for the youth.

Hence the challenge is to repackage the concept in a way that it becomes a viable prevention strategy to the young people.

Another complex concept that we need to look at is the call to be faithful to one partner. This is a rather complex issue since it requires commitment, honesty and trust between partners. These are the essential ingredients for the “Be Faithful” prevention strategy to be successful.

It is difficult to know for sure if your partner is being faithful, and it is clear that many partners are not. This is also true for the youth, who are in an experimental stage sexually and emotionally.

I therefore believe that for us to make the two HIV and AIDS preventative measures work, we need to combine the message with concrete skills training.

Experience has shown that many young people deemed abstinence as impracticable. And I am of the opinion this could only be addressed by emphasizing that abstinence must not be understood as staying away from sex forever. 

It is important to make young people understand the importance of delaying sex, until that time that they are old enough to take on responsibilities of a sexual relationship.

And to achieve the confidence and ability to refrain from early sexual activities, a social environment appreciating abstinence and social support from family members and peers is required.

While it is difficult in this age and time to be faithful to one partner, it imperative that public information campaigns on this concept go hand in hand with a call for partners to go for regular HIV tests and practice safe sex by using condoms.

Since the practice to maintain one partner may not be happening, HIV testing and condoms may need to be considered as an integral part of the faithfulness strategy.

Until then…

March 2015
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