HIV-rate among Zambezi youth alarming

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Katima Mulilo

A synthesis report on analyses of HIV-prevention responses and modes of transmission in the Zambezi Region, launched by Katima Mulilo Town Council yesterday, shows that the prevalence rate of HIV among young people between the age of 15 to 24 in the region stands at a worrying 24.3 percent.

It is believed the HIV-prevalence rate is particularly high among this age group because they are the most sexual active. Zambezi Region as a whole has an HIV-prevalence rate of 37.7 percent – the highest in the country.

The report also reveals that multiple and concurrent sexual partners within this age group are a strong predictor of HIV-transmission.
The 2013 Namibia Democratic and Health Survey reveals that 12 percent of male respondents in the Zambezi Region, aged 15 to 49, had two or more sexual partners in the preceding 12 months. The report further revealed that commercial sex is also a key risk factor of HIV-transmission in the region.

In Katima Mulilo the commercial sex industry has flourished over the years and many of its clients are migrant men from countries with the highest HIV-prevalence in the world. The Namibia Demographic House Survey (NDHS) of 2013 showed that nearly 3 percent of men residing in the Zambezi reportedly paid for sex in the preceding 12 months.

Speaking at the launch of the report, with the region’s worrying HIV-prevalence trend in mind, United Nations Development Programme resident representative Kiki Gbohe stressed that the region has an opportunity to develop targeted interventions and allocate resources that include all population groups. She encouraged partner agencies to continue working tirelessly to eliminate all forms of stigma and discrimination in order to reduce sexually transmitted infections that continue to facilitate HIV-transmission.

“I urge the regional leadership to strengthen advocacy for continued and sustainable financing for HIV-prevention programmes. We need to increase our focus on the challenging task of behaviour change if we are to eliminate new HIV-infections,” Gbohe advised. She further said the UN stands ready to support the region in ensuring an HIV-free generation.

The latest statistics reveal that 75 percent of youth in the Zambezi Region are sexually active. Approximately 33 percent of young men and 20 percent of young women in the region report their first sexual encounter before the age of 15, a notably higher frequency than elsewhere in the country.

Given the data the potential for new HIV-infections to occur at relatively young ages in this region is high, the UN resident representative said, noting that sex should be a frequent topic of discussion. “In order to transform mindsets, cultural practises and sexual behaviour that continue to fuel the epidemic must be changed,” Gbohe said.

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