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Young People in Parts of Costa Rica Have Limited Knowledge of HIV/AIDS, Practice Unsafe Sex, Report Says

February 26, 2009

Young people in Costa Rica's coastal cities of Limon and Puntarenas have limited knowledge of HIV/AIDS transmission and prevention methods, and many practice unsafe sexual behaviors, according to a report released Tuesday, Xinhua News Agency reports. Costa Rica released the report during an event launching an agreement between the government and UNICEF to implement a joint HIV/AIDS program targeting young people in the two cities.

For the study, researchers surveyed 800 young people between ages 13 and 18 in both cities. According to the report's findings, 52.5% of young people in Limon and 43.3% of young people in Puntarenas correctly identified HIV transmission routes. In addition, 26.5% of teenagers in Limon and 34.5% in Puntarenas correctly identified methods to prevent HIV transmission. A United Nations target calls for at least a 90% HIV prevention knowledge level by 2010, according to Xinhua News Agency.

The study also found that many young people in these cities practice unsafe sexual behaviors. About 59% of young people in Limon and 51.6% of young people in Puntarenas reported having sex before age 16, and 6.8% in Limon and 24.6% in Puntarenas reported beginning sexual activity at age 13. In addition, 27.7% of young people in Limon and 18.9% of young people in Puntarenas report using condoms during sex, the report said.

According to Marco Fournier, coordinator of the study, the report's findings are "worrying," because "there is a very low knowledge level and the teenagers barely have 40% of the information they need" to prevent HIV and other risks associated with unsafe sex. He added, "The problem is not the frequency the youngsters have sexual relations, but the conditions in which they have them -- with little knowledge, without condoms, one-off relations and with people older than they are." Fournier said he also is concerned about reports that 14% of young people in Puntarenas have had sexual relations against their will. According to Fournier, the study demonstrates the need for significant changes in Costa Rica's sex education programs (Xinhua News Agency, 2/24).

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