9 May 2014

Zimbabwe: Lack of Information Fuels HIV Infection Among Zimbabwe's Youths

analysis

At 16, Tapiwa* is angry at his parents, girls, peers and the whole world.

"My parents infected me with HIV! I have tried to accept it but I just cannot stop asking why me? It just feels so unfair," said Tapiwa, who comes from Highlands, an upper middle class suburb in Harare.

According to UN statistics, Tapiwa is one of an estimated 5.1 per cent of Zimbabwean youths aged between 15 and 24 living with HIV. Some 180,000 children below the age of 15 are also living with the virus.

Negative developments

The same report raises concerns at rising infection rates among young people, who are said to account for 91 per cent of new infections.

One reason could be that there is little programming to tackle issues of testing and living positively in these demographic groups, which are becoming sexually active early.

Tapiwa says he has unprotected sex with girls because that is what his friends are doing.

"When can I tell a girl about my status? In the beginning it's too early. Afterwards it's too late."

The missing message

Tapiwa says that the mass media messages are all about preventing HIV infection in youths and children. "Have you ever seen an ad telling teens to take their antiretrovirals?" he asks.

Posters in schools all urge young people to abstain, so as to avoid infection and nothing is said about those who are living with HIV.

One of the leading awareness and education platforms - Southern Africa HIV and Aids Information Dissemination Services (SAfAIDS) - has run several media campaigns for young people, but none of them are about living positively.

Renias Mundingi, SAfAIDS senior programme officer, said: "In 2010 we embarked on a programme to advocate behavioural change among youths which targets women, as they are at a higher risk of infection."

But there is very little to tell young people who are HIV positive how to live fulfilling lives.

Deadly gaps

Tapiwa may be better off than many other young people who do not know their status.

From the same suburb Marian, aged 18, is dating a young man of 20 with whom she has regular unprotected sex. She has never been tested and has no plans to do so in the near future. Her knowledge on HIV issues has many deadly gaps.

"I am on the pill because I want to finish my education before I have children. We were both virgins when we met, and have never slept with other people, so we are cool," she says, blissfully blind to the fact that some children born with HIV are now grown up.

A representative of the Ministry of Education of Sports, Arts and Culture said that the government would like to see all teachers trained to be able to impart life skills, including a complete knowledge about HIV.

"But there is no money for that right now so the teachers are just doing what they can."

name changed to protect identity

Read more about HIV and young people

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