AIDS prevention among primary school pupils
In Kenya, as in the rest of sub–saharan Africa, the most common way for people to become infected with the HIV virus is through heterosexual intercourse. As it is quite frequent among young Africans to develop a precocious, premature approach to sex, it is they who are the most affected by the disease. Added to their precocity is the fact that they lack a comprehensive and correct knowledge regarding HIV/AIDS and about how it is transmitted.
This is why, at the beginning of 2007, Arché implemented an AIDS prevention programme for pre-adolescents in the primary schoolsin the Diocese of Kisii. The intervention is conducted in conjunction with theCatholic Diocese of Kisii.
The objectives of the programme are:
- To give correct information about HIV/AIDS and its severe social consequences;
- To promote ethical references and knowledge among pre-adolescents to help them adopt non-risky behaviour.
- To improve communication, as well as relationships, between the two sexes, thus reducing gender disparities in general.
- To ?ght against the stigma and discrimination towards HIV positive people and those affected by AIDS.
Prevention is the most effective way to fight the spread of AIDS, at least until a vaccine is found. Although antiretroviral drugs in Africa are fortunately becoming more widely available, one of the biggest problems remains that of administrating and monitoring the therapy, particularly in the rural areas where there is a dearth of doctors and health care facilities. The reason why prevention programmes are primarily targeted at pre–adolescents is because about half of new HIV infections in the world occur among young people between the ages of 15 and 24. In sub–saharan Africa strong reasons exist as to why it is so important to target this age group:
- Most pre-adolescents are not sexually active yet. In Kenya the most common way for people to become infected with the HIV virus is through sexual intercourse; this is why prevention programs targeted at pre-adolescents are an effective tool to help them understand the importance of safeguarding their HIV-negative status by delaying having sex until they are of age and therefore more mature. On the other hand, prevention programmes targeted at adults are often less effective and are met with resistance: sexual activity among adults is consolidated, and as a result they are less willing to change their ways.
- Preadolescence is a transitional period between childhood and adolescence. During this period appreciable psycho-physical changes occur in children; it is therefore of the utmost importance that they be given values, be guided towards an understanding of themselves and become oriented in their approach to life. Years of campaigning for HIV prevention around the world have demonstrated how very little effective are prevention programs based solely on information.
In order to have a positive outcome, information on HIV/AIDS and its transmission must be part of a more extended intervention; the education approach based on developing life skills, at the core of Arché's prevention programme, promotes the development of skills and virtuous behaviour, which then enables the child to cope with social and peer pressure, to gain self–esteem, to show tolerance, to learn how to communicate correctly with the opposite sex and to obtain the necessary skills for negotiating dif?cult situations. This approach to problems increases the ability to recognize threats (precocious sex, alcoholism, the desire to become rich at any cost, etc..) and to react consequently, avoiding those situations where the risks of infection are high.
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