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Survey: HIV/AIDS message not impacting on teens

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Despite the huge amounts of money being poured into HIV prevention campaigns, it seems as if these campaigns are not taking the reality of teens into account.{{more}}

This is one of the conclusions that can be drawn from a recently concluded study on the “Response of Teens to HIV Prevention Campaigns” conducted by the UNICEF Office for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean.

While not focusing on any one particular campaign but on HIV prevention messages in general, the study, which was based on surveys and focus groups done with students from secondary schools in Barbados, St. Kitts and Nevis and from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, showed that while teens are understanding the campaigns’ messages, several factors hindered them from putting into practice what they hear.

This was especially so as it related to the message on condom use.

The study found that 20.8 per cent of the respondents did not use any precaution at all when having sex and only 33.7 per cent of those reporting being sexually active used condoms every time they had sex.

When asked why they did not use condoms, 38 per cent of those surveyed reported feeling too embarrassed to purchase condoms. The reality is, as was reflected in both the focus groups and in the survey, some teens are embarrassed to purchase condoms because of fear of being seen by someone who may know their parents or a relative. What was interesting was that of the teens reporting feeling embarrassed, half of them were girls.

Another reality is that for some teens, it is difficult to negotiate condom use with their partner, and this was especially so for the females in the survey. According to the survey, almost one third of respondents (31.3 per cent) reported that they had had sex without a condom because their partner did not want them to use one.

So where do we go from here? Is Lifeskills education the answer?

Apart from recommending that the ads use more teens in them, (especially any who were infected with HIV) and speak their language, one of the key recommendations that came out of the focus group was that HIV Prevention campaigns should be coupled with life skills-based education, such as the Health and Family Life Education programme taught in some schools in the Eastern Caribbean.

Focusing on the topics of Self and Interpersonal Relations, Sexual and Reproductive Health, Eating and Fitness and the Environment, HFLE uses interactive teaching methodologies to impart skills such as refusal, negotiation, conflict resolution, self-esteem (which is crucial to overcoming fear and embarrassment), among other skills.

Some countries have policies on HFLE in schools, while others do not. From interaction with students, including with those participating in the focus groups of this study, it appears that students would like HFLE to be taught to all their peers, but feel it is not taken as seriously as it should.

Perhaps it is time for policy makers in education to revisit HFLE to see how it could be further strengthened to complement HIV prevention messages as one of the solutions in the fights against AIDS.

For more of the study’s findings please visit www.unicef.org/barbados or contact pknight@unicef.org

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