'Step up fight against HIV/Aids'

HARARE - “My son Shakespeare, do not go around shaking your spear everywhere,” exclaimed Albert Nyathi as he recited his poem My Son, at the unveiling of a World Aids Day theme song initiated by a youth singing sensation Theo Phoenyll.

Being an unknown musician, the teenage sensation’s nerve to spread a message against HIV/Aids at a universally commemorated occasion is just but a pinpoint to the recent phenomenon of youth engagement and participation in HIV/Aids activism.

Formerly, senior citizens were the focal groups in the campaigns against the endemic.

However, a surfeit of reasons points to the youth engagement trend which in the past was ignorantly perceived as a taboo, mainly because of the disease’s link with sexuality.

Various organisations have recently galvanised their efforts towards interacting with the young people about HIV/Aids issues, with some even giving youths the onus to manage their own events.

On November 21, in celebration of its five years of existence the Young People’s Network on Sexual Reproductive Health, HIV and Aids (YPNSRHHA) held a workshop where youth representatives from 85 districts in the country converged at Celebration Centre to dismiss issues affecting young people in relation with the scourge.

Captivating poems, comic news and enthralling dancing routines pregnant with HIV/Aids information were disseminated by some youths at the occasion.

With researches pointing to youth as the most affected and vulnerable beings in the rating of the pandemic’s prevalence, calling upon young people in the decision-making process is vital.

Baldwin Maposa who is part of the secretariat of YPNSRHHA a youth arm of the National Aids Council (Nac) reveals that health survey reports have brought conviction among organisations to intensify its youth engagement.

“The current demographic health survey entails that most infections are recorded among the young people, hence it is important that young people be addressed on such issues which is what we are working on,” he said.

Sexual activity in the young people has been at an alarming increase which has led to organisations shifting their energy to the young people.

The Zimbabwe Demographic Health Surveys of year 2010-11 point to increase in the number of female youths aged 15-24 who had had sex which is 59 percent compared to 55 percent recorded in 2005-6, whereas the percentage of male youths who indulge is still the same.

Universities and colleges have been the arena of sexual misdemeanours with young women mostly falling prey to paedophiles due to the lack of sufficient funds for upkeep in the fashion-craze youth dominated societies.

Maphosa also challenged national and traditional leadership to extend their help to the youth’s cause in the fight against the endemic.

“We need both the national and traditional leaders to recognise the importance of youth participation even in decision-making so they can be active in HIV alleviation,” said Maposa.

Anele Ndebele a behavioural change manager at the Matabeleland Aids Council (Mac) stresses that young people’s sexual activity calls for an extreme attention towards engaging them in HIV/Aids programmes.

“It is important to appreciate that youths are sexually active therefore there is need to address them (youth) in Aids-related issues.

“Mac has since its inception resorted to the creation of youth clubs which help bolster interaction among young people,” he pointed out.

In 2004 Mac embarked on a “The Young People we care for” programme which was funded by JSI and is now funded by Unicef where communication awareness activities are carried out by young people.

This then courts the issue of poverty in relation with the pandemic; hence the need for strengthening of the government youth empowerment cause.

Nac’s communications director Madeleine Dube points out that the engagement of youths makes it possible for an HIV free generation.

“Young people are the future so if we target them in our campaigns we stand a chance of having an HIV free generation as they would grow up with the vital information which could be lacking,” revealed Dube.

Though not overwhelming but significantly so, the HIV prevalence rate has recently dropped within the youth; with those aged between 15-19, recording a drop from 4,6 percent in 2005-6 to 4,2 percent in 2010-2012, and those aged between 20-25 recording that from 11,6 percent to 7,5 percent.

With youths taking an active role in the fight against the pandemic, equipping young souls with the reality behind a plethora of issues surrounding HIV/Aids is all the country needs to focus on, to reach a zero infections. - Mandla Dingani, OWN CORRESPONDENT

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