Young People Know Little about Sexually-Transmitted Infections

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK Young people are engaging in risky sexual behaviour which calls for the reshaping and refocusing of HIV/AIDS interventions. Young people, according to a study on Knowledge, Attitude, Practice and Behaviour, expose themselves to high risk early in life, which results in more prolonged exposure to risk and an increased likelihood for HIV infection. The most common risk behaviour noted in the study, which was launched yesterday, includes having sex with unfaithful partners, having multiple sexual partners, unprotected sex, sex with someone one did not know well and sex with someone much older. Although the study found that knowledge of HIV/AIDS was very high, young people know little about sexually-transmitted infections. They start sexual relations at an earlier age (15) compared to their parents (20); some have sex with people much older than themselves and less than half report using condoms when having sex. The study was carried out in three regions, namely Omaheke, Ohangwena and Kavango on 1ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000 school-going and out-of-school youth to assess the current state of HIV risk behaviour through knowledge, attitudes and practices among young Namibians aged between 10 and 24 years. Amongst the 10 to 14-year-old group, some had started having sex as early as 13 years, some because they had wanted to (50 percent), others because they were forced (42 percent) while 7.7 percent were paid or received a gift. Of those who had sex, half had it with people of their own age while others (34 percent) had it with people much older than themselves. “More notably, 23 percent had their first sexual encounter with someone 10 or more years older,” the study, conducted by the Research Facilitation Services for the United Nations Children Fund (Unicef), found. As far as the 15 to 24 age group is concerned, the study found that their HIV knowledge was pretty high compared to the sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) knowledge, with males being more sexually active than their female counterparts. One-third of this age group had sex with a person much older than themselves, and about half with someone of their own age. This age group also has more than one sexual partner, with the majority (91 percent) having between one and five sexual partners. The concern stemming from these findings is that although Unicef has been supporting government on HIV/AIDS programmes for the youth – including: My Future is my Choice, Take Control, and Window of Hope – the findings from the study indicate that behaviour change is still elusive, according to Unicef Representative, Khin Sandi Lwin. The gender dynamics in the study are that more males than females had their first sexual encounter because they wanted to, while more females were forced to do so. Females were also more likely to have sexual encounters with older people than males, while males also had more sexual partners than their female counterparts. While this is the case, many do not get tested for HIV. The study found that 72 percent knew where to get tested for HIV but only 27 percent tested for HIV. More than 90 percent were tested for HIV and went back for their results. From these findings, the study lists a number of recommendations which include promoting the knowledge of STIs more than HIV/AIDS, more pro-HIV messages and information aimed at curbing stigma, educating the age groups for them to reduce vulnerability and to introduce programmes that reduce multiple partners (ideally one faithful partner) and also to acknowledge that males are more likely to be at risk by their actions, which puts their partners at risk as well. It also recommends that the dangers of alcohol should be included in programmes about HIV/AIDS. Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, said when she launched the study yesterday, that although the study did not paint a rosy picture about HIV/AIDS among the age group, there was light at the end of the tunnel because young people are strongly connected to their immediate family members.