Listening to youth on HIV prevention
Learning about sex and pleasure, female condoms, and paper balls containing questions about sex, sexuality and relationships – all were the subject of discussion at a recent satellite session for young people hosted by UNESCO, UNAIDS, UNICEF, UNFPA, and WHO at the International AIDS Conference (IAC) in Vienna (18-23 July 2010).
The session, entitled: ‘Right for You! Creating Game Changing Strategies for HIV and Young People’, was based on the responses of young people from around the globe and was chaired by Purnima Mane, Deputy Executive Director (Programmes), UNFPA, and facilitated by Ishita Chaudhry, a youth leader and activist from the YP Foundation, India.
This session focused attention on the bold results identified in the UNAIDS Outcome Framework business case on Empowering Young People to Protect Themselves from HIV. These results include:
- National comprehensive knowledge about HIV will have reached at least an 80% threshold among young people in and out of school, including through the provision of good quality sexuality education;
- The use of condoms with non-marital sexual partners will have at least doubled among young people; and
- The utilization of HIV testing and counseling services at public and private PMTCT and HTC facilities by young people most at risk of HIV will have doubled.
The purpose of the session was to provide an interactive platform to discuss how these bold results can be achieved and to discuss effective solutions to scaling-up these interventions for young people at country level.
Recognizing the need to capture what young people are really thinking, an on-line survey was launched to collect young people’s views on HIV education, access to condoms and counselling and testing. Here are some examples of the kinds of feedback received from youth around the globe:
‘The first time I received education about sexual activities was when I was at my 4th year of secondary school which I think is already late since I already started having sex before that” (Female, 21, Benin)
“I think people should start learning about condoms as early as age 10. It's a young age yes, but many young people are becoming sexually active in one way or the other even before they hit high school. In a controlled classroom where a teacher is talking to students about condom usage and the diseases it helps to protect against is perfect. Rather than a youngster going out and learning about sex and condom usage from a friend”.
"The fear! After the horror stories people are fed about the HIV infected as well as the stuff our parents tell us when growing up-sigh-it’s no wonder we are terrified. People believe it’s a death sentence." Male, 21, Keyna
A panel of resource persons responded to the feedback received from the young people who participated in the various web forums, and from those who participated in the session.
Dr Doug Kirby, co-author of the International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education: An evidence-informed approach for schools, teachers and health educators, UNESCO 2009, responded to a series of questions that ranged from scaling up comprehensive sexuality education, how to involve young people in programmes, to finding a place for pleasure in comprehensive sexuality education.
Mr Darlington Muyambwa, Programme Manager, SAYWHAT Programme, Zimbabwe, talked about access to contraception, negotiating condom use, female condoms, and overcoming barriers to reaching young people with information and services.
Dr Shaffiq Essajee, a staff member in WHO HQ leading the work on Paediatric ART/Family Care, talked about some of the challenges and successes around HIV counseling and testing and shared with the group his experience of returning to Kenya and reaching out to young people in schools with HIV information. Dr Essajee described a practical and effective way of getting students to open up about sex, sexuality and relationships by encouraging the students to write their questions on a piece of paper, crumple it up into a paper ball to protect anonymity, and throw it the front of the room where he would then answer questions as the visiting lecturer.
The challenge for young people and those working with and for them, including UNAIDS, is to focus on and mobilize around the game-changing strategies needed to reach the key results on condom use, HIV testing and counseling, and comprehensive HIV prevention knowledge, in the years ahead.