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Adolescence and HIV/AIDS - Critical Reflections

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Adolescence and HIV/AIDS - Critical Reflections

Tuesday, Aug 19
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2 years 50 weeks ago

To: The HIV/AIDS network within The Communication Initiative

Lilian Kiefer, Executive Director of Panos Southern Africa critiques adolesence and HIV/AIDS issues with some reflections on the recent Melbourne Global HIV/AIDS conference. This blog can also be reviewed, rated and commented on at this link.

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Adolescence is a defining period in the growth of a young person. Supporting young people to successfully navigate this stage of life can help break the cycle of poverty and produce great benefits for individuals, communities, and countries.

During adolescence, a growing person has the possibility of being exposed to life risking activities such as unprotected sex, early marriage and abuse. It is also during adolescence that most individuals discover their real worth and status when it comes to whether they are HIV positive or negative.

During the recent International Aids Conference (AIDS 2014) held in Melbourne, Australia, from 20th to 25th July 2014, representatives of hundreds of entities involved in the fight against HIV and AIDS reflected on the adolescent epidemic. It is a fact that while adolescence is a time of having dreams and possibilities, it is also a time of confronting great risks, particularly for girls.

Adolescent girls face the risks of early childbirth and marriage, dropping out of school, and acquiring a variety of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS. These consequences diminish the opportunities of adolescent girls and jeopardize their future.

According to a UNFPA Adolescent Report for 2013, Zambia ranks as the 5th highest in terms of the prevalence of teen pregnancies in sub-Saharan Africa, with an average of 17,600 young girls dropping out of school per year. The pattern remains high in all Southern African Countries, demanding the need for strategic responses to arrest the situation.

Addressing the AIDS 2014 conference, UNAIDS Executive Director, Michel Sedibe challenged the world to end AIDS by 2030. He shared his vision as: voluntary counseling and testing reaching everyone, everywhere, each person living with HIV reaching viral suppression, no one dying from AIDS or being born with AIDS and people living with HIV living with dignity and protected by laws. In sharing this vision, Sedibe cited HIV as the leading cause of adolescent mortality in Africa, and emphasised the need to accelerate prevention efforts especially among adolescents.

And during a SADC satellite session at AIDS 2014, Dr. Fabian Cataldo, a social anthropologist and Senior Research Scientist for Dignitas International presented research findings of a study that explored psychosocial as well as sexual and reproductive health (SRH) needs of adolescents aged 10 to 19 living with HIV in Southern Africa. The study identified gaps between needs and available SRH and HIV-related initiatives. Interviews with a total of 1,977 adolescents and 164 parents, guardians, and health care workers participated revealed that there are limited HIV/AIDS services for adolescents, both for prevention and treatment. Counsellors trained on how to deal with the special issues of adolescents are available in only a few sites offering youth-friendly SRH or HIV services.

While the need for adolescent-friendly services and to integrate SRH with HIV/ART services is well acknowledged, such important initiatives remain scarce and under-funded, with younger adolescents often overlooked or ignored. Most adolescents who were born with HIV feel isolated and unable to talk freely about HIV with their friends and families. Parents and guardians of HIV+ adolescents also feel ill-equipped to discuss the status of HIV positive adolescents. In addition, taking ART represents a daily challenge for these children, especially when they need to take the medication at school or outside the home.

At Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf), we believe that adolescence is a critical stage of human development. In this phase, children experience rapid social, physical, psychological, and emotional changes on their path from childhood to adulthood. The decisions made during this period of life affect not only the individual well-being of young people, but also the well-being of the entire society. It is crucial to ensure positive household and community environments where children will thrive during adolescence, as they transition into adulthood and bring great benefits to the community.

PSAf takes these critical reflections on adolescence seriously, and in the ongoing projects on Child Protection aims to empower communities to support adolescent, thereby also stepping up the pace in addressing the adolescent HIV/AIDS Epidemic.

Lilian Kiefer

Adolescence and HIV/AIDS - Critical Reflections

To: The HIV/AIDS network within The Communication Initiative

Tafadzwa Madondo and Renay Weiner from Soul City Institute - Southern Africa comment on the submission by Lilian Kiefer, Executive Director of Panos Southern Africa on adolesence and HIV/AIDS

Lilian Kiefer is commended for her critical reflection on adolescence and HIV /AIDS following the recent Global HIV/AIDS conference in Melbourne. In particular we agree that despite much evidence that youth are especially vulnerable to HIV and lack access to appropriate SRHR services, there are diminishing resources and few initiatives that attempt to address this gap. One such initiative is from Soul City Institute which has for some 10 years been working with partner NGOs in SADC to implement HIV prevention programmes, and in the past four years there has been an intensified focus on youth and SRHR.

Adolescents require support during the transition to adulthood and the critical information about sexual rights and SRH services contributes to them making informed choices at an important point in their lives. Youth in the southern African region carry a heavy burden of sexual and reproductive health concerns including high HIV prevalence and incidence, early sexual debut and age-disparate and transactional sexual practices (UNESCO, UNFPA, 2013). Recognising these challenges and also the vulnerability that young people face due to health risks, Soul City through the support from the Embassy of Sweden (Regional HIV & AIDS Team, Zambia) embarked on a campaign to address sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) issues affecting the youths in southern Africa.

The key approach of this campaign was to engage young people and adolescents (10-24years) by giving them a platform to engage on their understanding of SRH and access to services. The programme was developed through a formative research process using literature reviews, focus group discussion and stakeholder consultations in seven southern African countries. This research was conducted through collaboration and support from the regional programme country partners namely Phela Lesotho, Pakachere Malawi, Desert Soul Namibia, Nweti Mozambique, Lusweti Swaziland, ZCCP Zambia and Action Zimbabwe. It was evident from this research that young people have the correct knowledge on HIV prevention; however they had certain misconceptions regarding teen pregnancy and social norms. Examples include puberty implies that one should start having sex and a young woman will not have children if she waits too long. The research findings informed a series of messages that were developed to be used in the subsequent Social and Behaviour Change Communication multi-media and community based interventions that targeted Southern African youth.

Key materials that were produced included SRH booklets in seven southern African countries targeted at youth as well parents and guardians. Three television youth talk shows “Wize Up” broadcasted in Malawi, Swaziland and Zimbabwe, each developed and produced by local NGOs with support from Soul City and supported by social media platforms (facebook, twitter, smsing). In Swaziland, Lusweti and Malawi, Pakachere have received further funding to develop, produce and flight a second series each. These multimedia materials focused on creating awareness, promoting self-efficacy, shifting attitudes and norms, and impacting on behaviours of youths with respect to SRH. Some of the key comments to highlight the success of the platforms and youth participation include:

“We so excited to be part of the Wize Up TV Talkshow show and we enjoy the continuation of the topics in our Youth Centres. The show is very interesting and parents are also benefiting from the discussions” Comment by youth member of the Family Life Association, Swaziland.

Great subject Wize up! It is important to discuss SRHR for People with disabilities and they need to be treated like any other citizen. Comment by female adolescent, Wize Up TV Talk show, Malawi.

Comment by male adolescent on condom use: Requesting a condom does not mean you do not trust your partner but it shows that you care about your partner. Everyone should carry condoms. Wize Up Talk show, Swaziland.

Another intervention that Soul City also embarked on to reach young people in Africa was the use of social media platforms for SRH advocacy. With the support from UNFPA, Soul City conducted a training workshop for 70 young people from Africa focusing on enhancing capacity on how to use social media as an advocacy tool to address the inter linkages between SRHR, gender equality, HIV prevention and poverty reduction. This training was important in the sense that social media platforms are influential in young people’s lives as key communication tools. Reaching young people through these platforms would help in creating awareness and also giving them the opportunity to advocate for the SRH needs at a continental level.

Though progress has been made to reach out to young people and create more awareness about the importance of access to SRH services and information, funding is still a key challenge in conducting such programmes. Soul City with the support from the Embassy of Sweden, will conduct an evaluation at the end of 2014, this will help in assessing the impact of the multimedia interventions that address SRHR for young people in the southern Africa region and also identifying strategies for future interventions.

Written by Tafadzwa Madondo and Renay Weiner (Soul City Institute)

HIV/AIDS Communication
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