22 November 2017

Tanzania: Isles Targets the Youth in Campaign for Zero HIV/Aids Infections

ZANZIBAR is among countries that have successfully maintained a low HIV/AIDS prevalence rate ever since the first case was diagnosed in 1986.

The pandemic prevalence has remained below one per cent, with the number of people living with HIV estimated to be 6,393. Despite this, the Island has not slowed down its fight against the killer disease and currently, the Indian Ocean Archipelago is pushing for an AIDS-free generation by 2030, as part the global campaigns to curb AIDS prevalence among the world population.

"Certainly there will still be HIV cases but we don't want people to have AIDS by 2030," says Zanzibar Aids Commission Executive Director Dr Ahmed Mohamed Khatib.

HIV prevalence has remained stable in Zanzibar for the last three decades, boasts Dr Khatib, who says the prevalence has been ranging between 0.4 and 1 percent, but says it is not all rosy since the rate is high in some groups and warns HIV-AIDS remains a big health problem.

He discloses highly affected groups as sex workers, gays, lesbians and drivers, but most alarmingly are young people aged between 10-24 years old, especially girls.

"More should be done in the fight against HIV/AIDS... we should not relax simply because the rate of HIV/AIDS prevalence is quite low here in Zanzibar," warns Dr Khatib.

He cautions that unsafe sexual behavior, drug abuse and overall moral decay, if not properly addressed could accelerate the rate of HIV and AIDS transmission among Zanzibari's.

In an effort to end AIDS, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were proposed and feasible strategies were also set in 2015 and got acceptance of world countries including Zanzibar, as part of the United Republic of Tanzania.

Ms Nuru Ramsi, Head of ZAC Public Education, says it is possible to end the pandemic by 2030 and also have HIV free generation but more focus, she argues, should be directed to the younger generation, which has more new HIV infections. 52,569 young Zanzibari's, aged 10-24, were tested for HIV between October 2016 and September 2017, out of whom 296 (about 0.6 percent) tested positive.

"We're witnessing more HIV infections among adolescents, but unfortunately not much of the focus is given to this population in our national HIV/AIDS programs," says Ms Ramsi. She says if youths are properly educated about HIV and empowered to protect themselves from infections, Zanzibar will attain HIV and AIDS- free generation.

Ms Batula Abdi, National Programme Officer (Reproductive health and Youth), says many adolescents engage in sexual intercourse with multiple partners but sadly, they often fail to adhere to safe sex, like the use of condoms.

She says increased adult supervision during the adolescence stage, including sexual health education can play a significant role in protecting young people from the pandemic.

"Parents often make a big mistake by not engaging their children in sexual education from the tender age, as a result they engage in behaviors that heighten HIV risk," says Ms Abdi.

Youths are prone to certain high-risk behaviours such as early sex, pregnancy and drug use and most often they lack access to HIV prevention and protection services, according to Ms Abdi.

The UNFPA official says for national HIV responses to be effective there is a need to address the underlying problems facing this future generation and protect them from the ruthless claws of HIV/AIDS.

"Young people need to be supported so that they realize their right to health and that they should also be exposed to a comprehensive education on sexual and reproductive health and HIV prevention," says Ms Batula Abdi.

In an effort to increase awareness among the young generation, the government, through the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training, introduced Guidance and Counselling from primary school standard six to lower secondary classes with the aim of nurturing the youth.

Apart from providing training materials for students, the programs seeks to promote moral ethics and environmental studies (MEES) clubs in schools which deal with issues related to HIV/AIDS, environment and population. Similar programme was introduced in teacher training colleges.

Life skills education is also pursued via the provision of guidance and counselling services and the initiation of peer education. Narcotic drugs also are said to have a direct effect on the spread of HIV among youth in Zanzibar.

It is reported that HIV prevalence is 16 per cent among the injection drug users (IDUs). Despite several efforts by the government to combat narcotic drugs in Zanzibar, the problem Isles targets the youth in campaign for zero HIV/AIDS infections still remains across many parts of the Island, thus placing more young people on the danger of possible HIV infections.

The Zanzibar government plans to construct its own treatment and rehabilitation centre for helping those who have been affected by drugs, which would be a key intervention towards controlling HIV/Aids spread on the Island.

But the establishment of sober houses by non-government entities for intravenous drug users, peer support, overdose management, and behavioural interventions has provided the platform through which health experts can easily reach out to endangered youths.

The government has been supporting the available Sober Houses financially and strategically. For instance ten houses were given funds of 1.5m/- each last year to support their activities. However, Legal and Human Rights Centre suggests that the government needs to flex its muscles by allocating a special budget to support the houses.

The Centre also calls for other stakeholders to support sober houses financially. "This effort of the government to financially support sober houses is a commendable intervention which other stakeholders in the fight against illicit drugs should support," reads the Centre's latest report.

The Zanzibar Integrated HIV/TB and Leprosy Program has also been conducting training on adolescent services. "A total of 30 people including 15 adolescents, 10 healthcare workers and five ZAPHA+ leaders received training on adolescent services in Unguja and Pemba," says Ms Mariam Ali Khamis, adding that four adolescents clubs, with 96 members, were established in the two Islands.

The main tasks of these clubs are helping on how to improve the Antiretroviral Therapy adherence, education and awareness on sexual and reproductive health and HIV, and encourage people on how to live a healthy life with HIV.

But Ms Khamis says concludes that for HIV youth programs to bear fruit, youth friendly and adolescent club services should be strengthened and financially backed up.

"We need to mobilize more resources and scale up youth friendly services as well as train more staffs and other service providers on the provision of youth friendly services," she urged, while calling for more outreach services in higher learning institutions so as to increase uptake of HIV Testing Centre services.

"There should be clear mechanisms in coordinating youth and adolescent intervention programs implemented by different implementers in Unguja and Pemba," she adds.


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