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Deceived by appearances, girls face disaster

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 d’Ivoire, 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 people’s 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.

 
Source: DHS and other nationwide surveys
Source: DHS and other nationwide surveys, 1994-1999.
 
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