Young people needed to tackle HIV in Zambia

Around 72 new HIV infections are recorded every day among Zambian youths and adolescents, which translates to three per hour, according to UNICEF.

Around 72 new HIV infections are recorded every day among Zambian youths and adolescents, which translates to three per hour, according to UNICEF.

Andre Lesa, a consultant with UNICEF, quoted these figures at the Youth Symposium, held before the Second African Regional Adolescent Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights Symposium, now underway in Lusaka, Zambia (7-10 December).

Lesa said one of UNICEF’s strategic objectives was to promote the participation of adolescents and young people in national HIV response activities. He added that UNICEF is working to increase knowledge on HIV and demand for prevention strategies among young people, as well as monitoring the quality of services aimed at them.

Adolescents living with HIV

Speaking at the conference, UNICEF HIV programme officer Dr Tajudeen Oyewale said that out of the 2.1 million adolescents aged 10-19 living with HIV worldwide in 2012, 83 per cent live in sub-Saharan Africa. South Africa accounts for 15 per cent, while Nigeria, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Kenya account for eight per cent each and Zambia four per cent.

Dr Oyewale added that coverage of HIV treatment and prevention in sub-Saharan Africa is improving although more needs to be done.

To end the AIDS epidemic among adolescents by 2030, leadership is needed from governments, donors, academia, civil society and especially adolescents themselves, particularly those living with and affected by HIV.

Phindile Nheleko, a young South African who is living positively with HIV, understands this has to include the meaningful involvement of young people living with HIV in the design, implementation and monitoring of youth-friendly HIV and sexual and reproductive health services. She said being HIV positive has caused her to freely speak out and she urged other young people to speak out on issues of HIV to create impact.

Young people speak out

Nheleko said: “Huge numbers of young people are being infected on a daily basis. However, putting a voice and face behind the big number of issues surrounding young people, using my personal story to communicate to young people, has made a difference.”

She added that using youth voices to rebrand messages being sent out to young people is necessary and vital.

“The use of youth voices does really matter. Stay true to yourself and utilise the space that you occupy to reach others,” she said.

Tackling bad cultural practices

Meanwhile Maria Barakaoudis, from the United Nations Population Fund, has called for criticism of bad cultural practices.

Although Barakaoudis did not mention any specific bad cultural practices, some tribes in Africa still practice what is known as kupyan.

Kupyana is a cultural practice that entails a widow or widower to be ‘cleansed’ through having unprotected sexual intercourse with, or getting married to, a relative of the deceased.

Child marriage is another cultural practice that is rife in many parts of Africa, which has numerous human rights issues, including the fact it puts young girls and adolescents at much greater risk of HIV infection.

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