|© UNICEF Guinea/2009/Baro|
|Fatoumata, in a salon in a poor Koloma neighbourhood of Conakry. She is 18, has 2 children, aged 6 and 3 and has never heard of AIDS.|
By Fatoumata Thiam Diallo
CONAKRY, Guinea, 26 March 2009 – Nene Gallé Barry sells charcoal in a very poor area of the Koloma quarter in Conakry, the capital of Guinea. She is 18 now, but left her home village 4 years ago to earn a living in the city. She has a boyfriend and is sexually active but, until recently, she had never heard of AIDS and had never seen or used a condom.
Sadly, this is the reality for most adolescents in Guinea. They lack access to the correct information that will protect them from getting infected by Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) or HIV/AIDS. Only 23 per cent of adolescents aged 15 to 17 use condoms during risky intercourse according to a 2005 study. And 94 per cent of them had heard about HIV/AIDS, but only 30 per cent knew all three ways of contracting the virus.
When Nene finally learned about the risks she had been taking by not using proper protection, she asked for condoms to use. She wanted to know how to use them and how to convince her partner to put them on. Once she learned what to do, she was very happy.
Improving youth access to information
In Guinea, young girls are particularly at risk for contracting STDs. Many lack access to critical information as most young girls are not educated. Many are also involved in jobs that expose them to unsafe sexual practices; jobs like selling fruits in the streets or working in hair and sewing salons. There they will often meet male adolescents or older men who offer money in exchange for sexual intercourse.
|© UNICEF Guinea/2009/Baro|
|A group of peer educators entering into a hair salon in Miniere, Conakry.|
UNICEF and its National partners have taken major steps to improve youth access to information and proper decision making concerning HIV/AIDS. The first National Prevention Strategy for youth was produced in 2007, and a coordinating team has been set up in order to harmonize and scale up activities.
It's within that spirit that UNICEF and JCI (International Youth Chamber) started a partnership two years ago in order to empower adolescents within poor communities and accompany them in projects that reach other vulnerable adolescents, mostly girls.
'My job, my health'
From 2007 to 2008 the project reached more than 20,000 adolescents ranging in age from 13 to 20, all from different backgrounds. The project produced eight TV spots in four different languages, as well as 20 interactive radio shows.
The new project of the partnership is called 'mon métier, ma santé' translated as 'my job, my health', and is targeted at girls working in hair dressing and tailoring shops in two of the poorest neighbourhoods in Conakry. One hundred peer-educators are planning to visit the targeted sites and engage in educational conversations with the young apprentices and clients about HIV/AIDS prevention.
It is hoped that these girls, once educated, will reach out to their family members and friends regarding HIV/AIDS prevention. A study will be conducted after two months of such sensitization activities to evaluate the impact of the project.
UNICEF hopes to be able to reach at least 50 per cent of the most vulnerable girls by 2011.