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Survey on HIV/AIDS in Timor-Leste reveals widespread misconceptions among young people

© UNICEF Timor-Leste/2006/Asael
Timorese youth chill out, playing guitar at the Don Bosco IDP camp, in Dili.

Dili, 19th June 2007 – Can the bites of mosquitoes and other insects spread HIV/AIDS? Will eating together or sharing others’ clothes cause HIV/AIDS transmission? The answer is ‘No’, yet many young Timorese think otherwise.

A recent baseline survey, commissioned by UNICEF and supported by the Timor-Leste Government, showed that half of the young people who had heard about HIV/AIDS believed insect bites could spread the virus, while a fifth of them had the misconception that a strong, healthy-looking person cannot be carrying the HIV virus .

The study, which surveyed 1097 young people (15-24 years) from across the country, sheds light on the knowledge, attitudes and practices of young people on HIV/AIDS and sex. Over the years, the number of reported HIV cases has increased, from 7 in 2002, to 43 at the end of 2006; 11 have died so far. This may only be the tip of the iceberg, as voluntary counselling and confidential HIV testing is still not widely accessible to most, especially those living in rural regions.

Of significance was that 61% of all the respondents said they had heard of HIV/AIDS (with 55% for the female respondents). In contrast, only 16% of women (15-59 years) had heard of HIV/AIDS when UNICEF undertook a Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey in 2002. Overall, 85% of the respondents who had heard about HIV/AIDS also knew that it could be transmitted through unprotected sexual intercourse. These results indicate that the ongoing efforts by NGOs and UN agencies to educate Timorese on HIV/AIDS are making some impact. Although awareness is greater, the lack of accurate knowledge about HIV/AIDS is still a major concern.
 
The release of the survey comes after a nationwide HIV/AIDS campaign was officially launched in Dili on 8th June 2007. This is the first coordinated and nationwide prevention education effort in the country to combat HIV/AIDS. From June till September, all 13 districts will undertake activities such as drama, sports, radio talk shows, and pop concerts to spread the word on HIV/AIDS and to encourage young people to talk about the disease so that misconceptions and stigmas can be reduced. The campaign ‘Fini ne’be diak ba nasaun’ (Good seed for the nation) plans to reach out to 40,000 young people (15-24 years) as they are typically most at risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS.

The study highlights the need to reach out to young people as many are already engaging in sexually-risky behaviours. 39% of those surveyed said they have had sexual intercourse, with six out of ten having their first encounter between 15-19 years old; more than half (67%) had sex without protection; while 50% have had sex with more than one person.

The survey showed that while most of the young people who had seen condoms knew they could prevent unwanted pregnancies, only a quarter knew that HIV/AIDS could also be prevented. Only 6% of all the respondents said that they would “always use a condom” as healthy sexual practice, indicating a need to inform the Timorese youth on condom usage in disease prevention.

The ongoing campaign which is being carried out in stages in all 13 districts will thus seek to address some of the key issues raised by the findings in the research. This campaign is designed to provide accurate information about STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections) and HIV/AIDS to young people nationwide and stimulate discussion and sharing of facts about HIV/AIDS among families and communities as a first line in addressing the adoption of HIV preventative behaviours.

 

 
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