Young People Need More Detailed, Accurate And Confidential Information To Protect Themselves From HIV/AIDS

Experts from 10 institutions in six countries cite new evidence from Sub-Saharan Africa

ABUJA, Nigeria—Everyone has something to say about what young people should do to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS. We went directly to the source. We asked more than 20,000 adolescents in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Malawi and Uganda to describe their lives, worries, sources of information about sexual and reproductive health, and sources of health services.

We found that young people care about their future and want to protect themselves. They told us they want:

  • more detailed information about how to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS; and
  • more information from confidential and accurate sources such as health care providers

These are not impossible demands. In many countries, health care facilities are well-positioned to help young people protect themselves. As one young man noted, "We prefer going to the hospital. This is because the hospitals and clinics offer good health services and they are also knowledgeable about health issues."

Young people described for us some of the specific barriers that need to be removed to provide them with the best possible counseling, treatment and information.

"The problem is that maybe the person [giving you information] is from the same village as you and then you are sitting there listening to your village mate!" said one young man concerned about confidentiality of health services. "In such cases it is better to go somewhere away from your village, someone who is not even known in the village to talk to you about this."

"If you go to the public health services, you have to pay around one dollar before being seen by a provider," said one young woman.

Another added, "The traditional treatment is cheaper. Some traditional healers give you a treatment and you pay something when you recover from the illness."

HIV prevention messages are reaching adolescents, but the messages need to be more tangible. For example, many young people know where they can get a condom, but very few have seen a demonstration on how to use one correctly.

Others, particularly young women, face additional barriers to protecting themselves from both HIV/AIDS and unintended pregnancy.

"Some girls are so poor they cannot bargain," one young woman explained. "A girl in that category may think that if she asks for safer sex the boy will stop providing for her needs."

On December 1, as experts from around the world gather in Abuja in preparation for the 14th International Conference on HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa, let us take this international day of action to focus on protecting the next generation. We need to work harder to ensure that young people receive the clear, accurate and specific information they want and need.

Click on the links below for more information:

In Their Own Words: Adolescents' Views on Sexual and Reproductive Health in Sub-Saharan Africa

Témoignages d'Adolescents, Sur la Sante Sexuelle et Reproductive en Afrique Subsaharienne

Qualitative Evidence on Adolescents' Views of Sexual and Reproductive Health in Sub-Saharan Africa