February 16, 2010
Rwandan health officials recently launched a nationwide HIV campaign aimed at curbing risky sexual behavior among teens. HIV prevalence is 1 percent among people ages 15-24, said Dr. Anitha Asimwe, executive secretary of the National AIDS Control Commission. However, just 10 percent of young sexually active Rwandans say they use condoms, according to a 2000 study.
"If teenagers are eager to have sex outside of their marital status, it is also important to educate them about how to reduce the risk of being infected with HIV," Asimwe said. "In most cases, these teenagers don't sometimes feel concerned to go for voluntary testing. The most discouraging issue is that most parents don't want to talk to their children about sex, relationships and other related facts."
Many teens find it difficult to address HIV with their sex partners, say health experts. In 2008, "David" went in for HIV/STD testing after coming down with shingles, skin diseases, and pneumonia. After he was diagnosed with HIV, which he tried "ignoring," David began having unprotected sex with a new girlfriend. "Raising the issue of your HIV status sometimes contributes to a breakdown in mutual confidence and friendship," said the 18-year-old. "After several times having unprotected sex, I decided to tell her that I had AIDS." David's girlfriend has since left him.
At Nakumatt, a major supermarket in Kigali where David used to hang out, about 100 young boys and girls gather around several plastic tables. Most are interested in having a good time, and any sexual encounter is likely to be unprotected. Teens have no fear of HIV/AIDS, explained Bonaventure Ntagengwa, coordinator of a reproductive health-based youth center in Kigali.
Future campaigns should encourage male circumcision to reduce HIV among youth, said Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, the permanent secretary of Rwanda's Ministry of Health.