|My song against AIDS|
|Data brief: Progress and disparity|
Surveys show what youths don't know could kill them
The results of recent surveys in 17 countries show a dangerous lack of knowledge among young people about how they can protect themselves from AIDS. In all 17 countries, girls know less than boys do. This knowledge gap is one important element in understanding the higher HIV-infection rates among girls in many countries and in improving prevention efforts.
In Mozambique, where HIV prevalence is a high 13%, 74% of girls between the ages of 15 and 19 were unable to name a single way to protect themselves from the infection. For boys, the figure was a lower but still disturbing 62%. In the United Republic of Tanzania, where 8% of the population is believed to be infected, 51% of girls surveyed could not name a single method to avoid infection, nor could 35% of boys. In Zambia, 23% of girls and 10% of boys, in Côte dIvoire, 22% of girls and 8% of boys and in Zimbabwe, 17% of girls and 8% of boys were unable to name even one way to avoid infection.
In countries with fairly low prevalence rates of HIV/AIDS, there are exceedingly high percentages of young people unaware of protective measures in Bangladesh, 96% of girls and 88% of boys; and in Chad, 66% of girls and 45% of boys.
The data stress the need for much greater emphasis on reaching all youths and especially girls and women, whose rights to information are all too often frustrated by poverty, local customs, violence and social or religious bias. Also, as survey data from Zambia and Zimbabwe show, even where awareness of how to protect oneself is relatively high, sexually active girls did not see themselves at risk (see story Seeing no risk in sex).
This reveals that basic knowledge about HIV/AIDS does not always lead to less risky behaviour. Experience shows that the chances for behavioural change improve when information campaigns address underlying attitudes, values and skills needed to protect oneself, and when those at whom the messages are aimed in this case young people actively participate in designing such campaigns.