|© UNICEF video|
|Through a UNICEF-supported campaign, peer educators in Papua, Indonesia are teaching students about the dangers of HIV before they become sexually active.|
By Steve Nettleton
PAPUA, Indonesia, 29 September 2006 – Like many young people, 19-year-old Rifal (not his real name) never used to worry about AIDS. He saw it as a problem that only affected high-risk groups, such as intravenous drug users. His view changed in February 2006, when he discovered that he had contracted HIV.
Rifal hasn’t told his family or friends of his status. He fears being stigmatized. The only place he feels comfortable discussing his condition is at a clinic, where he receives medical and psychological care.
While HIV/AIDS affects all of Indonesia, it has hit especially hard in Papua, where the proportion of people living with AIDS relative to the total population is well over 10 times the national rate.
To stem the tide of transmission, a UNICEF-supported programme is educating young people in Papua about the dangers of HIV. The goal of this campaign is to promote awareness in the classroom and train young people to serve as peer educators.
In addition to visiting older students, UNICEF is working to bring HIV/AIDS education to youths in junior high school – a critical time to dispel common misconceptions many young people hold about HIV and sexuality.
|© UNICEF video|
|By involving the entire community, the HIV education campaign has become a local effort – with Papuans helping other Papuans to protect themselves.|
Surveys show that adolescents as young as 12 are already sexually active in Papua. Health experts warn that without urgent action, the epidemic could spiral out of control in the region.
Papuans helping Papuans
The HIV education effort also aims to reach out to at least 10,000 young people who are no longer attending school. To that end, young people are hitting the streets, handing out booklets about AIDS awareness to their peers. They visit local hangouts and areas on the beach that are frequented by sex workers, targeting at-risk youths.
By involving young role models in the community, the campaign has become a local effort – with Papuans helping other Papuans to protect themselves.
Rifal believes this grassroots effort is needed to contain the spread of HIV. “When young people are too drunk, they don’t know they’re losing their discernment,” he cautions. “They can’t control themselves. They don’t use a condom.”
Information is power
Another aspect of the programme trains teachers to educate students about reproductive health and HIV. They teach youths ways to avoid contracting sexually transmitted diseases – including abstinence, condom use and steering clear of illegal drugs.
Sister Zita Kuswati, a Catholic nun in the regency of Sorong, has become one of the area’s most tireless and outspoken advocates in the fight against AIDS. As the leader of an HIV/AIDS support group, Sister Kuswati believes information is the most powerful weapon in the fight for prevention.
“Everybody is afraid of AIDS, but we really needn’t be afraid of it if we know how it is transmitted,” she notes. “Students should be made aware of the method of transmission, the method of prevention and how to treat the sufferer of this disease as early as possible.”