Primary prevention to reduce new infections among adolescents
The population of West & Central Africa is remarkably young with 55% of the 350 million people 18 years old and under. Given that nearly half of all new infections occur among young people, primary prevention in this age group is a key programming strategy. Yet adolescent sexual activity remains a controversial and often taboo subject. Young people, families and leaders at all levels are often uncomfortable discussing it and thus perpetuate the vulnerability. Consequently, many adolescents are isolated and ill-informed about the causes of AIDS or ways to prevent it.
This said, increasing numbers of adolescents throughout the region are speaking out in the fight against AIDS. They are taking charge to educate themselves and their peers, and helping to establish information and services that are appropriate for them.
UNICEF works closely with UNFPA and other agencies that are leading the effort in primary prevention with the goal to reduce new infections by 50% by 2010. UNICEF is helping to develop and implement a comprehensive strategy of infor¬mation, skills and services to reduce adolescents’ vulnerability to HIV/AIDS. The UNICEF West & Central Regional Office developed and introduced generic manuals for both life skills based curriculum and peer education. Ten countries have now integrated life skills based education into the national curriculum, or are in the process of doing so. Peer education is growing in Burkina faso, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Chad. UNICEF is also helping to nurture a number of innovations in the region, such as Ghana’s “Alert School” certification model, Nigeria’s use of the National Youth Service Corps, Benin’s youth health outreach and Sierra Leone’s work with the Interfaith Council.