Prevention still priority in HIV fight

HIV prevention strategies should address behavioural and structural factors, in order to positively impact young people, National AIDS Coordinating Agency director, Grace Muzila said yesterday.

Addressing a United Nations Eastern and Southern Africa HIV/AIDS Network meeting, Muzila said prioritising prevention especially among young people should be central in fighting the scourge as it threatened the existence of family foundations.

“The HIV/AIDS epidemic is not only threatening the physical health and survival of millions of children across the globe but it is also destroying their families and depriving them parental love, care and protection,” she said.

Muzila explained that research was needed on selecting and optimising the combinations for greatest effect, particularly among adolescents and young people.

“Significant gaps in HIV prevention remain for adolescents. In order for nations to prevent the spread of new infections, adolescents and young people need accurate and relevant information about HIV, along with a safe environment in which they can talk openly about risky behaviour. 

“This must be accompanied by access to voluntary counselling and testing, HIV education in schools, prevention of other sexually transmitted infections as well as psychosocial support,” she said. Muzila said there was also a need for young people to be fully informed of their health status so that they could make informed decisions regarding their actions and life choices, including managing their own health as well as disclosing and making healthy sexual choices.

UNICEF HIV/AIDS Regional Advisor, Anurita Bains said prevention measures among young people should be a priority as 90 percent of new infections are recorded in Africa, especially in Sub Saharan countries.

Bains explained that 64 percent of those infections were recorded across Eastern and Southern Africa and thus the need to engage in policy dialogue should become key as populations grow.  “Populations in these regions keep growing because adolescents and young people are now more than ever being child bearers resulting in 70 percent of new infections recorded in paediatrics,” she said. Bains further noted that there was a need for a critical shift in addressing health issues among young people while at the same time confronting unequal power rights among men, women and marginalised groups. She said unequal rights among men and women sometimes prevent women, especially adolescents, from seeking medical help and having a say in their health. This, in turn, makes them more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. “HIV/AIDS exposes a lack of human rights and that is why prevention should be a priority so that we can deal with one issue at a time,” she said.

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