Time to make amends: world has let down the girls

>  LEADER

THE GLOBAL community has made commendable progress in arresting the spread of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the past four decades. AIDS is no more a death sentence as millions of people are now leading healthy lives, thanks to life-saving medications. Even in poor countries, including Africa, HIV infection rate has declined dramatically. But HIV infection rate among adolescent girls and young women remains high, mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

UNIADS has raised the alarm that a large number of teenage girls and young women aged between 15 and 24 years across the globe are being inflicted by HIV every week.

It is said that in 2014, about half of all adolescents living with HIV globally were living in six countries, five of which are in Africa.

In Eastern and Southern Africa, 74 percent of new HIV infections among adolescents are among girls aged 15-19, and AIDS-related illnesses are the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age.

These damning statistics are a clear indication that there is urgent need for new innovative HIV prevention interventions and approaches to reach adolescent girls and young women.

It is further testament that along the way – during the fierce battle against HIV/AIDS   the world somehow failed to empower adolescent girls and young women.

And it is time to change course. Policy makers, including parents, first need to wake up from the slumber. As adults, we need to come to terms with the reality that young people know more than what we think.

They are living in a fast-paced world dictated by the digital information age.

They are consuming too much information from the Internet, including sexual content, but without proper guidance from the elders.

Pressure is now on our policy makes, especially in health and education sectors, to chart a new course regarding the welfare of our young girls.

And we are grateful that this message has reached home in our region where the problem is said to be calamitous.

About 100 delegates from east and Southern Africa recently gathered in Namibian capital, Windhoek, to strategise on how best to reach adolescent girls and young women with HIV prevention in the context of sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The picture that emerged from the gathering is that governments and all stakeholders, including parents, are paying little attention to the dangers of HIV infections among teenagers of reproductive age. That we have been too gullible to assume that teenagers are not engaged in sex – more so in risky sexual behaviours.

“The important thing is not to deny that sex happens, but to teach them about all the consequences.

It is ignorance, not education that puts young people at risk,” according Namibian health minister, Dr Bernard Haufiku.

Minister Haufiku made an assessment that it is crucial to educate our teens mostly girls about sexual relationships. In the absence of a cure for HIV/AIDS, the minister calls for a shift in socio-cultural and religious beliefs that remain a stumbling block to an effective sex education.  Haufiku further observed that: “Our sexuality and maintaining sexual health are lifelong processes that begin at birth and continue throughout life and children should be educated about it at tender age.”

Until we break the sex talk taboo – our young ones are bound to make costly mistakes early in their lives. But who is going to educate them if the majority of parents in Africa, including teachers grew up in an environment where talking about sexuality issues is a big ‘NO’. If parents cannot have candid sex talks with their kids, who is going to do it? One blogger on a South African open online forum ‘Ukweli Wa Mambo’ charted a new course for governments in the region.

The blogger wrote that: “How about our governments’ partner with young African movers and shakers, who are already making a difference in our communities.

Allow them to regularly speak to the children as older brothers and sisters or friends instead of authority figures. Open the communication channels and perhaps we can combat teenage pregnancy and reduce sexually transmitted diseases.”

February 2017
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