WINDHOEK- With the increasing factors leading to young people contracting HIV/AIDS, the question still remains, how involved are young people in the ongoing fight against this deadly disease.
Student Counsellor & HIV/AIDS Coordinator at the Polytechnic of Namibia, Aletta McNally, says two studies conducted by the PoN, namely The Impact of the HIV/Aids Awareness Campaign on Knowledge, Attitudes, Beliefs, Sexual Behaviour Change and Confidence in Sexual Practices andA Baseline Study of Multiple and concurrent Partnerships (MCPS) Among Students at the Polytechnic of Namibia” state that students and young people alike are knowledgeable about HIV and AIDS. Yet at the same time they are ignorant regarding what behaviours predispose people to contracting the disease, and stigma towards those who have the disease remains barriers.
McNally explains that despite being aware of the disease, and the manner in which it is contracted, students and young people continue to engage in risky sexual behaviours such as multiple and concurrent partnerships, as well as alcohol and illegal drug abuse which is often a catalyst for risky sexual behaviour.
She adds that there are sufficient resources available to young people and students with information on HIV and AIDS, though in her own opinion she believes that they are thinly spread in Windhoek, and the rest of the country. “One has to bear in mind that students have demanding academic programmes, and in some instances limited financial resources.
Therefore, anything which places an extra burden, be it mental, physical or financial, is often ignored by students to address this one need to bring some of these services and available activities closer to the students if one really wants to drive the message home and impact behavior,” she says.
This is one of the reasons why the Polytechnic of Namibia hosts a yearly HIV and AIDS Awareness Campaign on campus in Windhoek so that these services are brought to the students, and the institution can ensure that it has provided access to its student population to such.
“It is very important to note that when one makes reference to ignorance in this regard, it does not mean that students and young people are ignorant about HIV and AIDS itself, but rather that their ignorance lies in the fact that they fail to adapt their behaviour from that which puts them at risk at contracting the disease with the knowledge that such behaviour could lead to infection,” says McNally.
According to her, Sub -Saharan Africa has the highest HIV and AIDS infection rate in the world, and as a result people are continuously bombarded with messages about the disease, which help to educate the public to make informed decisions. However, one unintended consequence of this has been the fact that people have largely become de-sensitised to the issue, and what this leads to is the development of an “It won’t happen to me” attitude amongst young people, students and members of the public.
“Because many students share this sentiment around the disease, it is a major challenge to get them to participate in HIV and AIDS initiatives on Campus. This, plus stigma and ignorance coupled to the disease prevents many students from (i) taking the issue seriously, and (ii) from being associated with any HIV and AIDS awareness groups,” says McNally.