Youth at the Centre of HIV prevention,says UNICEF Iran Representative on World AIDS Day
Tehran, 1 December 2010 -. A quick glance at the latest data on the trend of spread of HIV globally and in Iran shows why it is so important to place the youth at the centre of HIV prevention.
As of 2008, of the estimated 33 million people living with HIV globally, about 4.9 million were young people aged 15 – 24 years and 2.1 million were children under fifteen years.
In Iran forty six percent of all reported HIV cases are amongst 25-34 year olds. This suggests that risky behavior is starting during adolescence and in the early twenties. It also highlights the significance of prevention programmes tailored to the needs and behaviors of young people so that they can help to reverse the spread of HIV – as can comprehensive education and action to end stigma and discrimination.
The potential shift in the pattern of HIV transmission from injecting drug use to sexual transmission is very important to note and prepare for, given the young demography of Iran. So is the gender dimension of the epidemic given the social stigma that women face much more strongly than men everywhere in the world. We all know how feminization of the epidemic translates into further risk for unborn children. We have a golden opportunity now in Iran: With minimum resources we can easily prevent sexual transmissions. If we do not join our efforts now and before it is too late, the adverse consequences of the shift of the transmission mode can cause huge damage that requires much larger resources to be contained and controlled.
In the Islamic Republic of Iran, UNICEF is working with the government, to ensure that adolescents and youth especially the most-at-risk and especially vulnerable young people are empowered with knowledge and skills to protect themselves from HIV. UNICEF-supported Adolescents Friendly Service project of the Ministry of Health is a totally youth-oriented pilot project aimed at empowerment of youth by youth themselves.
However, changing high-risk behaviors is not a one-day task; neither is it a task to be done by one player only; different duty bearers and a united action plan is required to make a difference. Awareness raising, information sharing and skills building in school settings play a key role in HIV prevention especially in a country with high enrollment rate like Iran. In fact good basic education itself is a strong protective factor for preventing HIV risk behavior among young people. By training the students on life skills and teachers and parents on early identification of risk factors, schools can be at the forefront of HIV prevention interventions.
In today’s world, where children and youth have a much wider access to various types of media, the local broadcast media, as well as print and online media are essential in making sure young people have access to age-appropriate and culturally sensitive but accurate information regarding risky behaviors.
Hopefully, a mass mobilization across the society for effective awareness-raising and information sharing on HIV prevention would lead to a major reduction in the prevalence of risky behaviors among youth and make us closer to a generation free from HIV and AIDS. After all, we have already committed to achieving this by 2015 in Millennium Development Goals and in particular Goal no.6.
1-Sep 2010 Data available at: http://www.childinfo.org/hiv_aids.html