HIV/AIDS and adolescents
HIV/AIDS - A problem that affects more and more youth
In Moldova, there are 4,996 people registered as infected with the HIV virus (December 2008). These are the official numbers. The real number of those infected is much higher. Half of the cases are young people between the ages of 20 and 29 years old.
With every year that passes, more and more young people are being affected by HIV and AIDS, and they know very little about the disease. A study done by UNICEF among young people showed that only one person in eight knows how to protect from HIV, and can name ways of transmission of the infection and methods of protection.
What is UNICEF doing?
The simplest and most accessible way to prevent the spreading of HIV among youth is to inform them. UNICEF, in partnership with the United Nations Population Fund, the Ministry of Education and Youth (www.edu.md), and the National Youth Resource Centre (www.youth.md), have found a solution to this problem. They have created the Network of Peer Educators in HIV/AIDS Prevention.
What is the “Peer Education” Network?
The network of “peer educators” in the prevention of HIV/AIDS appeared in 2006 and already has 3000 members. Currently, it is the largest youth network in the country. All members are between the ages of 12 and 18 years old and were selected from more than 700 schools across the nation. Every young educator demonstrated leadership qualities in the location from which they come, as well as the ability to communicate. Before receiving their diploma as a peer educator, these adolescents were instructed on HIV/AIDS during a summer school. There, they learned the ways of transmitting the HIV virus, about methods of preventing the infection, and the means of protection. Plus, the children learned how to behave with people who are sick with AIDS and how to offer support to those who need it.
How do peer educators work?
Through their activities, peer educators reach other children of their own age faster than any adult. In their arsenal they have games, open lessons, group discussions, and even social theatre. Because they are the same age as the adolescents they talk with about HIV/AIDS, the young educators are accepted much more readily. Plus, adolescents can talk openly about things that they are too embarrassed to ask an adult.
This new effort has been demonstrated to be very effective in many countries, including in Moldova, where the results appeared quickly. The activities of the network confirmed once again that youth learn about HIV/AIDS easier when the teacher is someone their own age. According to a study done byUNICEF and the National Youth Resource Centre, the number of youth who had accurate information about HIV/AIDS rose by almost six times (from 8% to 48%). Meanwhile, the number of students who have a tolerant attitude towards people who live with HIV/AIDS doubled. In the future, through the activities of the network, UNICEF hopes to increase the number of young people informed about HIV/AIDS to at least 80 percent.
The Network of Youth-Friendly Health Centres
Youth-Friendly Health Centres were opened, by the Ministry of Health and the National Centre for Reproductive Health and Medical Genetics, with the aim of improving the health of adolescents in the most vulnerable groups by giving them access to health services that are friendly to youth. These 12 Youth-Friendly Health Centres offer information about sexually transmitted diseases, HIV and AIDS, counselling and testing services, access to contraceptives, etc. To reach adolescents in the groups most at risk of becoming infected with HIV and other vulnerable youth, Youth-Friendly Health Centres have created a mobile team that can go directly to the houses of the adolescents.
Preventing HIV/AIDS among adolescents with a high risk of infection
Adolescent drug users, commercial sex workers, men who have sex with men, adolescents who work, live, or spend their free time in the street or who live in institutions, etc. are extremely vulnerable to infection with HIV due to the conditions in which they live or the risky practices they have adopted. To stop the spread of HIV/AIDS among these groups, UNICEF, in partnership with the NGO New Life (Chisinau), Centre for the Rights of Children and Youth (Balti), and the NGO Generation of the Future (Tiraspol), identifies these youth and offers information about the ways of transmitting HIV/AIDS and the methods of prevention. In 2007 alone, the mobile team from these organizations succeeded in involving in their activities up to 4000 vulnerable adolescents, about 600 of which had an elevated risk of infection.