|Recent surveys conducted in 34 countries are
revealing how little young people, particularly girls, know and understand about HIV/AIDS.
In 15 of the countries, 50% or more of girls aged 15 to 19 do not know that someone who
looks healthy can be infected with HIV and transmit it to others. In Côte dIvoire,
41% of girls are deceived by appearances, in Cameroon, 45% and in SouthAfrica, 51%. In
Mozambique, the level is 66%.
Girls vulnerability to HIV infection, already higher
than that of boys the same age for a number of physical, social and cultural reasons, is
further heightened by this information deficit. Stronger campaigns and activities are
urgently needed to debunk myths about the disease and provide youths, girls in particular,
with the details they need to protect themselves.
Because the number of HIV infections is increasing most rapidly among 15- to 24-year-olds, education about the disease needs to be a continual process, reaching children
before they move into this high-risk age group. Early interventions will enable children
to master the information in stages and build on that knowledge year after year. The goal
of saving lives by changing young peoples behaviour clearly hinges on how well they
come to understand and internalize the risks of the epidemic.
Countries in which very high percentages of girls think that a person who appears to be
healthy cannot be infected include Chad (83%), Niger (81%) and Nepal (80%). These
countries also have generally low prevalence levels, but experience from programmes in the
field shows that it is never too early to start the education and information campaigns
vital to controlling the epidemic.