‘Less than 15% of young people aware of HIV status’

Less than 15% of young people are aware of their HIV status despite constituting the larger group of people who are dying from HIV and Aids-related illnesses, NewsDay has learnt.

By Phyllis Mbanje

Experts have said this is a result of a toxic brew of stigma, lack of access to health care, risky behaviours and too few young people being tested for HIV.

Addressing the Senate Thematic Committee on HIV and Aids, Sibusisiwe Marunda, who is the country director for Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative (REPSSI), said the grave situation needed urgent address from all stakeholders.

“Young people have not been able to access HIV services because the environment is not permissive. There is still a lot of stigma from the community as well as health facilities,” she said.

Although there are a number of open clinics with youth corners, these have not been utilised because the staff manning them remain judgmental and this drives away the adolescents.

“From our research and that of partners, there are indications that young people who go for HIV testing are not disclosing their results, especially if they are positive,” Marunda said.

“They are afraid that they will be discriminated against by their family and community. This has a serious impact on uptake of the life-saving anti-retrovirals drugs, which are also instrumental as a preventive method for further spread of HIV.”

Marunda said even though they did not condone early sexual debuts, it was clear that teenagers were indulging in sexual activities and yet could not access HIV services.

Zimbabwe has made great strides in the fight against Aids, with the support of development partners, but of concern are the rising infections among adolescents.

In 2015 alone, nearly 14 000 girls and women between aged between 15 and 24 were reportedly infected with HIV.

However, despite the overwhelming evidence of sexual activity among the young, moral crusades have shot down condom distribution among school-going ages, saying it would promote early sexual activity.

“We are not advocating for young people to indulge, but as a society, we need to dialogue with our children,” said Marunda, whose organisation is calling for mainstreaming of psychosocial support (PSS) as a measure to counter the problem.

“Effective PSS enhances individual, family and community well-being and positively influences both the individual and the social environment in which people live.”

Marunda implored policymakers to educate and mobilise communities on adolescent sexual reproductive health rights, gender-based violence, and uptake of HIV services, ending child marriages and push for the promotion of enablers for adolescent access to service.

“There should also be efforts to review policy to mainstream PSS in the relevant sectors,” she said.