Policy Brief: HIV/AIDS Prevention Among Adolescents in South Afr Essayica
Heterosexual intercourse among adolescents is the primary method of HIV transmission in South Africa, with the majority of new infections occurring in the 21 – 25 year age group. An HIV-prevention campaign promoting abstinence among young people would seem to be an effective barrier to further infections. However, a policy promoting abstinence approaches the problem only superficially, and would not take into account all of the factors driving adolescents to engage in sexual relations, specifically unprotected sex, in the first place. Abstinence is not a viable method of HIV/AIDS prevention within the social, political, and economic context of South Africa.
A more appropriate strategy would be a comprehensive program aimed at the de-stigmatization and prevention of the disease.
A campaign promoting the use of condoms in all sexual encounters, backed by education and the expansion of HIV care and prevention services, and accompanied by policies addressing destructive economic conditions and gender inequality would be the most effective strategy. Countries such as Uganda and Senegal have had success when taking a direct approach to HIV prevention, we should follow their example and confront the epidemic on the terms on which it is striking our populace – through the unfettered, unprotected, and unhealthy sexual practices of our youth.
Education is of primary importance in the war against HIV/AIDS. It is the most efficient preventative weapon in our arsenal. Most young adults are at risk because they lack the most basic information on HIV and how to protect themselves from infection. There is confusion about methods of transmission, cultural myths about the disease’s curability, and, perhaps most damaging, skewed perceptions of self-risk.
In addition, there are high levels of denial of HIV’s prevalence in communities that have yet to experience AIDS-related deaths. This results in adolescents convincing themselves that they can filter out dangerous partners through appearance or reputation. AIDS is externalized as a disease striking only at the margins of society, and is not seen as sufficient enough of a threat to change one’s risky sexual behavior.
HIV/AIDS education should be a community-wide occurrence. Scare tactics should be used to depict HIV in a realistic manner – as a disease incorporated into every community that can and will infect you if you do not take the correct precautions. Limiting education to the schools keeps HIV/AIDS as a medicinal, sterile topic, and disassociates parents who are unwilling or unable to talk to their children about issues of a sexual nature.
Bringing HIV/AIDS out into the open with posters and television and radio spots, possibly with the endorsement of sports figures or community leaders would make HIV and sex in general more acceptable, comfortable subjects.
In order for individuals to change their behavior they need not only basic knowledge of HIV and their own personal risk of infection, they must perceive their environment as being supportive of safe behaviors. The more that adolescent sex and HIV, and the prevention of HIV through the use of condoms are aired on the public wavelength, the less stigmatized they will become. There is an association of condoms with people already infected with STDs or HIV, with women who “sleep around”, with untrustworthiness and a lack of pleasure. Education about condoms needs to be tied directly to prevalence rates of HIV/AIDS, which are at 43.1% among 21-25 year olds in some areas.
Peer pressure can be manipulated by using well-liked, respected peers to convince others of the intelligence and normalcy of HIV-preventing behavior. Counseling of individuals and couples together is important in initiating the use of condoms, which is why community-wide education is imperative.
For women especially, abstinence is not a socially or financially acceptable option, but neither do women have much control over alternative ways to protect themselves from infection. Girls’ involvement in premarital sex is often an attempt to provide for basic needs, school fees, and luxuries or to find a husband. “Sugar daddies” represent a definitive threat, as the power imbalance between a school girl and a wealthy, older, sexually experienced (and thus with a higher probability of being infected with HIV) man, who presents an opportunity improve one’s socioeconomic status, is especially dangerous. Masculine sexuality is .