HIV & Aids Alarmingly High Among SA Teens
Shocking statistics have been released revealing that on average 2 300 South African girls aged between 15 and 24 will contract HIV every week. The research shows that girls are four times more likely to contract HIV than their male counterparts. However, that statistics on HIV contraction for males of the same age group is still chilling.
The risk is higher for high school learners, according to Marina Rifkin, a Public Health Specialist at CareWorks, an HIV management organisation. Rifkin says that this age group is more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviour, such as unprotected sex, as they do not yet feel comfortable negotiating the use of a condom with their partner.
“Sexually active young women are particularly vulnerable as they often engage in sexual relationships with older men. Research conducted by the Centre for the AIDS Programme Research in SA (Caprisa) shows a trend of girls contracting HIV from older men. The study found that both girls and boys on completion of Grade 7 remained HIV-negative. However, by the time they finished Grade 12 about 7-10% of girls were HIV-positive, yet most of the boys remained HIV-negative. This is because the girls were having sex with older men who were likely to already have been infected by the HIV virus,” says Rifkin.
“This age–sex disparity in HIV acquisition continues to sustain unprecedentedly high incidence rates, therefore preventing HIV infection in this age group is a pre-requisite for achieving an AIDS-free generation and attaining epidemic control.”
Rifkin goes on to explain that the age at which many of our country’s youth have their first sexual encounter is often far younger than 16 (the age of legal consent). According to her, teens can be sexually active at 14 and sometimes even younger.
“To date, voluntary HIV counselling and testing, promoting delay of sexual debut and correct and consistent condom use when engaging in sex have shown some success among the youth, but other prevention interventions such as voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) are crucial and shouldn’t be discounted,” says Rifkin.
The Role of Circumcision in HIV Prevention:
Currently, South Africa is halfway toward the national target of circumcising 4,3 million males aged 15 to 49 by December 2016. With over 2 million men having been circumcised so far.
“The once-off 20 minute procedure reduces a man’s lifetime risk of HIV by up to 60% and it helps to prevent other STIs. VMMC also reduces the risk of penile cancer, and reduces the risk of acquiring the human papilloma virus (HPV) and, as a result, cervical cancer among the female partners of circumcised males,” explains Rifkin.
Lower HIV infection rates among circumcised men than among uncircumcised men has been consistently apparent in the research done in Orange Farm, South Africa. Models also suggest that VMMC scale-up would reduce HIV incidence in Eastern and Southern Africa by roughly 30-50% over 10 years.
“The take home message is that the risk reduction offered by circumcision is substantial and could reduce the immediate and long term risk for both young men and women. The world in which teenagers are growing up today is very different from that of their parents’ and grandparents’ youth. Compared with 20 years ago, young people are entering adolescence earlier than ever before and they want to explore their sexual selves,” notes Rifkin.
“That being said, young people also need help in preventing HIV and parents can play an important role in the prevention process. While it may be challenging to broach this topic, try to have an open discussion with your teenager about sex and the importance of protecting themselves from both unplanned pregnancy and HIV. Lay down all the options on the table, including the benefits of VMMC and give them the support and guidance they need during this transition period into adulthood,” says Rifkin.
To find out where you, your son, friend or partner, can undergo free VMMC: send a free ‘please call me’ to 0606 800 800 and a counsellor will get back to you. For more information about VMMC visit the VMMC media and information hub at www.mmcinfo.co.za.