OPINION: While thinking of bringing a change in society, the major focus should be put on adolescents because they are among the most influential change ambassadors with immense potential to drive the change and they have the ability to strongly influence social behaviors at both family and community levels.
Adolescents are very curious in nature and they are at a risk of being sexually harassed. Furthermore, adolescents live in an era where the prevalence of HIV is high which puts them at a risk of getting exposed to HIV.
In Uganda, the prevalence of HIV among adults aged 15 to 64 is 6.2%. This is approximately 1.2 million people aged 15 to 64 people living with HIV.
Therefore, adolescents should be considered in every approach used in the prevention and control of HIV/AIDS. Educational interventions have contributed to increased knowledge on HIV reduction, schools have been proven to be among the safe spaces for sexuality education and sharing of HIV-related messages.
A multidisciplinary approach under Makerere University through Youth Led Initiative for Sustainable Health (YISH) club with students from various disciplines are committed to promote sustainable health practices and lifestyles among their fellow youths and adolescents who later become educators. This is achieved by creating awareness about HIV/ AIDS in both schools and communities.
Most importantly, the club trains youths and adolescents to become health ambassadors through various approaches for example; conducting social media campaigns and outreaches among these adolescent children in primary schools. These schools include; Makerere Primary School, St Martin Primary School, St Paul Kyebando primary school among others to educate them about HIV/AIDS.
During the campaigns, team members interact with both the teachers and pupils separately in a participatory approach where learners share what they know as they also learn from the facilitators who are the team members. At the end of every session, pupils are always asked questions about the taught topics and awarded simple gifts like pens, pencils among others to motivate them.
From YISH assessments, Mr. Stephen Kwajja, a YISH member reports, “most teachers had miss conception that is to say, they didn’t know the difference between HIV and AIDS, and pupils also had a miss conception that mosquitoes can transmit HIV”.
Furthermore, he adds, “teachers are shy to teach these adolescent children about HIV/AIDS because they think they are young”.
Similarly, a report from Ms. Poleen Kyakunzire, a YISH member, pointed out that parents and guardians of these children are not open to talking to them about HIV/AIDS. This provides evidence that the adolescents are highly left out and denied information about HIV which affects their knowledge on the subject hence increasing their vulnerability.
As the world celebrates World AIDS day on 1st December, YISH encourages you to have a straight talk to adolescents about HIV/AIDS for their bright future.
The author is: Jalidah Nabukalu: YISH General Secretary, Makerere University.
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