By Pretty Chavango.
Harare, Zimbabwe. (News Of The South) – Young people in Zimbabwe constitute more than 60% of the population. Young people are faced with the pains of unemployment hence indulging in social vices such as taking drugs, a myriad of criminal activities and sexual indulgences have become rampant as they seek forms of escapism from routine home chores.
According to National Aids Council at least 136 000 young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are living with HIV in Harare alone. Of these statistics girls are the most affected accounting for more than half of these figures.
Zimbabwe has one of the largest HIV epidemics in the world, with an estimated adult HIV prevalence of 15% and 1.4 million people living with HIV. Long distance truck drivers, sex workers, young people, people in prisons have been cited as key populations in Zimbabwe this was said by Minister of Health and Child care Dr David Parirenyatwa in his official opening of the Southern African Regional Students and Youth Conference (SARSYC).
There are a number of multidimensional factors in which young people find themselves in a web of sexually transmitted infections. Being young and easily impressed by the flashy things of life young people end up in inter-generational relationship where the partner is ten or more years their senior. In cases of unequal power relations the vulnerable party which in this case the younger person is not given the choice of negotiating for safer sex leaving them exposed to infections.
Sex education is still a touchy subject for open discussion in Zimbabwe, while the extended family institutions of the aunts and uncles are slowly being eroded due to various reasons like new culture, social media reliability for information as well as people being too busy making money to be playing the advisor.
Discussing these issues with parents on the other hand turns out to be awkward and tense with the child playing mute in a bid to disguise the fact that they already are fully aware of what the parent is painstakingly trying to elaborate while the parent is wondering if they are ,saying too much .
Sex education in schools during science class is somewhat vague, brief and scientific without really explaining how it directly relates to a person, regardless of the stifled giggles which i remember characterised reproduction topics as teachers used figures of nude diagrams to explain issues of sexual reproductive health , students never really benefit much from it.
Not knowing much on issues of sex and sexuality does not however result in one not having interest in it , in actual fact the lesser the knowledge the more the curiosity to experiment. Having little or no information on sexual and reproductive health rights has led to peer to peer education as adolescents share personal experiences , what they think and what their friend heard culminating in engaging in sexual acts based on half or not near truths .
Speaking on the need to educate children on issues of reproductive health United Nations Population Fund representative during the SARSYC conference Tamisayi Chinhengo urged for engagement of the right population in the process.
“We need to catch those young and teach them how to grow, that is, young people in primary schools, before they engage in risky behaviours” she said.
Young people have been urged to participate in sexual reproductive education in order to protect them against making uninformed diseases which may affect their future. This will be made possible by rolling out of more reproductive health in schools.
Organisations like SAYWHAT , SAfAIDS , ROOTS and NAC among others have already being doing work on awareness on youth engagement in sexual activities at a tender age which often result in unwanted pregnancies , early child marriages and also HIV and AIDS. However these programs might not reach everyone and there is need to introduce them as part of school curriculum.
While these initiatives target preventing new infections, young people already living with HIV and AIDS are not left out. National AIDS Council chief operations officer Tapuwa Magure revealed that the University of Zimbabwe has been given the green light to initiate and supply ART while MSU has been accredited as a follow-up site.
Looking at the statistics of people living with HIV in Zimbabwe one will note that young women are more affected than men constituting more than half of the people living with HIV.
This is also the same for women all over Africa according to Ugandan coordinator HIV prevention at Uganda Aids Commission (UAC) Dr David Tigalawana, “The female genital tract is made up of a larger exposed area. Semen has higher viral load than vaginal fluids and the semen stays longer in the female genital tract after acts of sex which increases the chances of HIV transmission. It has also been proved that the genital tract of young girls is immature and more prone to invasion by HIV” .This is among many other factors making women more vulnerable to HIV.
Young women also need more information on available contraceptives to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
The family institution is also encourage to make time for the adolescent children and take them through the various challenges they face , Head of Communications and Knowledge management at SAfAIDS hosts a popular T.V show Positive Talk which focuses on issues of sexual reproductive health rights among young people , being a mother to a teenager herself Makanga says working for a Regional organization means regular travels outside the country, which means needing the ability to really prioritise work and still maintain a stable work-life balance and although she admits it gets difficult she manages to juggle both and still be there for her daughter , “I know this is the time she needs me most and I try to be there for her, but I must admit, she shares me with my other responsibilities, which is a minus. There are times that I have missed some of her school activities because I will be away. The father has to fill in the gap. So it all boils down to having the ability to balance, and make sure you leave time for social events, otherwise you can go haywire”.
Young people have thus been urged to young people should actively collaborate with key stakeholders on Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) to eradicate HIV and AIDS.
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