Adolescents are young people aged 10 to 19 years and constitutes 25% of the Zambian population. During adolescence period the body undergoes changes including rapid growth of the brain which make young people to explore and experiment in their quest to take up new roles in society.
It is during this developmental phase, when adolescents have limited health information that some indulge in alcohol and drug abuse, risky sexual practices including commercial sex and other illicit activities that undermine their health and may lead to HIV infection.
The 2014 Zambia Demographic and Health Survey revealed that HIV/AIDS/ Sexual Transmitted Infections (STIs) are high among adolescents in Zambia.
One (1) out of twenty (20) Zambian adolescents has HIV.
According to Dr. Kakungu Simpungwe, Ministry of Health Assistant Director-Adolescent Health, 40 percent of the adolescents are sexually active and more than half of these engage in unprotected sex. Girls are more affected by HIV than boys of the same age because of difference in ages of first sex debut and risk sexual activities.
Dr. Simpungwe explains that Intergenerational sex (sex between young girls and older men) especially in exchange for gifts and cash makes young girls vulnerable to acquisition of STIs and HIV which they transmit to their peers who are also part of their sex network.
Sex in exchange for money is also common in rural areas among girls who go to school in far flung areas and live as weekly boarders.
Some men, especially truck drivers and other business men take advantage of these girls who are desperate to make money to pay rentals and to buy school requisites and groceries.
HIV infection and unintended pregnancies are the adverse consequences of this unfortunate state of affairs which has discouraged some parents from sending girl children to schools in rural areas.
Community leaders, parents and teachers should work together to ensure availability of safe boarding houses that should be monitored by school authorities to enhance safety of girl pupils.
Some young people are sexually abused, as evidenced by the Violence Against Children in Zambia Survey Report of 2014. According to the report, 20 percent girls and 10 percent boys experience forced sex.
Half of sexual abuses occur in homes hence the need for parents/ and guardians to be alert and ensure that they provide a safe environment for their children to grow up in. Perpetrators should be reported to relevant offices and victims taken to the hospital for psycho-social counselling and medical assessment/treatment..
There are over 23 Gender Based Violence (GBV) One Stop Centres located in health facilities across the country where victims of physical and sexual abuse can access counselling, medical, legal and social services.
By dialing 116 or 933 on all networks members of the public, adolescents and children can also get help for any form of abuse and information on health problems.
A counsellor on the other side of the line provides counseling services for adolescents and young people in distress and provides information as regards institutions where callers can access health including HIV services, social and legal services.
Early sex debut does not only predispose young girls to HIV infection but also compromises their opportunities to reach their full potential through education. Statistics from the Ministry of General Education affirm that in 2017 a total number of 13,640 girls dropped out of school due to pregnancy and less than half were re-admitted to continue with their education. Parents and guardians are encouraged to instill confidence in girls to remain focused and aim high in education so that they attain higher qualifications and get better jobs to improve their livelihood.
In order to address the above mentioned facilitating factors of HIV infection among adolescents Government through the Ministry of Health, other line ministries with support from various cooperating partners has placed adolescents’ health top on the agenda and designed programmes to raise awareness on, increase demand for and accessibility to adolescent friendly HIV/AIDS and other health services.
This is in line with the vision 2030 which aims at having zero new HIV infection.
Interventions to prevent HIV infection include HIV testing which is conducted in almost all health facilities and outreach points in the community; placement of patients found HIV positive on anti-retroviral drugs which prevent the multiplication of the virus in the body and reduce chances to pass on the virus to others; voluntary medical male circumcision, administration of anti-retroviral drugs to HIV negative people who are at risk of contracting HIV virus such as babies born from HIV positive mothers and those who have HIV positive sexual partners and use of condoms.
At the moment HIV/AIDS is one of the diseases in the world for which a cure is not yet known.
A person living with an HIV virus has to daily take antiretrovirus drugs that can help to suppress viruses in the body to prolong his life.
Modes of HIV transmission from one person to another include unprotected sexual intercourse, exchange of sharp instruments such as needles, razor blades and mother to child transmission.
Prevention of HIV infection and care of HIV adolescent patients calls for provision of adequate information to adolescents on HIV to dispel myths that perpetuate HIV infection, delivery of quality, comprehensive and adolescent friendly HIV services as well as building strong support groups for adolescents living with HIV. Quality adolescent friendly HIV services entail provision of easily accessible services by competent and approachable health workers in a confidential manner.
HEALTH TIP: Real men respect girls and do not use physical or sexual violence to prove they are men. Violence is sign of weakness, lack of confidence, feeling threatened and low self-esteem.