Date: Sat, 18 Sep 1999 00:58:29 -0500 (CDT)
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Rich Winkel)
Subject: HEALTH-AFRICA: Young Girls More Vulnerable To HIV Infection
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Young Girls More Vulnerable To HIV Infection
By Lewis Machipisa, IPS, 16 September 1999
LUSAKA, Sep 16 (IPS) - A new UNAIDS research in Africa shows that young girls are more prone to being infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) not by boys their own age, but by older men known as 'sugar daddies.'
Most of the young girls are infected during their first few exposures to sex, maybe even their very first, the study says.
According to Jane Chege, one of the researchers, "men say they prefer to have young girls, because they think that young girls are safe."
"Unfortunately those guys who think that young girls are safe are not safe themselves," said Chege.
The study, conducted during 1997-1998 by the Study Group on Heterogeneity of HIV Epidemics within UNAIDS and the World Health Organisation (WHO), found HIV infection rates of 15 percent to 23 percent among girls ages 15 - 19 years old, and rates of 26 to 40 percent among men aged 25 and older.
Among boys aged 15 to 19 years old, the HIV infection rate was found to be just three to four percent.
"The unavoidable conclusion is that girls are getting infected not by boys their own age, but by older men," said Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS.
The research findings were released at the Eleventh International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Africa (ICASA) which was held in Lusaka, Zambia from Sep.12 - 16.
This study, according to UNAIDS, provides the strongest evidence yet that dramatically links high levels in teenage girls to sexual contact with older men.
The research was carried out in four cities, two of which have high HIV prevalence trends. The cities included Kisumu, Kenya, Ndola in Zambia and the low-prevalence cities of Cotonou, Benin and Yaounde, Cameroon.
Overall, the study found that female HIV prevalence was significantly higher than male prevalence everywhere, except in Cotonou.
In Kisumu and Ndola, HIV rates were 30-32 percent in women and 20-23 percent in men aged 15-49.
The largest female/male discrepancy was found in the 15-19 years age group. Teenage girls in the high prevalence areas had HIV rates of 15 to 23 percent, or four to six times higher than boys in the same age bracket, who had a rate of 3-4 percent.
"When almost a quarter of teenage girls have HIV and when close to half of them carry the virus that causes genital herpes, the only possible explanation is that they are becoming infected during their first few exposures to sex, maybe even their very first," said Michael Carael, head of prevention at UNAIDS.
"There is a need to reduce the age differences between partners," said Carael who was in the Zambian capital for the ICASA conference.
The HIV/AIDS epidemic threatens an enormous proportion of youth worldwide. According to UNAIDS, more than three million children and young people became infected with HIV in 1998.
Three in five of those newly infected with HIV are between the ages of 15-24 years of age, while 7,000 young people aged 10-24 are infected with HIV everyday, that is five young persons every minute. The figure for those infected every year is 1.7 million.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, 10-20 percent of youth between 14 and 24 are already living with HIV/AIDS.
According to the Southern African AIDS information network (SAfAIDS), many social and economic factors within their social and family environments can impact on the youth.
Some of these factors include labour migration, rapid social change and urbanisation, wars and political unrest and limited information about sexual health and risk behaviour.
"Youth require good quality education and information about sexual behaviour to make healthy decisions and develop skills that will protect them against HIV/AIDS," said Anne Buve, a member of the research team.
"For millions of young girls in or nearing their early teens, this is an emergency. Prevention just can't wait," added Buve. "Girls have the right to know the facts, that they are at high risk of becoming infected quickly even if they have just one partner, especially an older man."
"Parents, schools and communities must make sure that girls have the information, skills and tools to delay sex and to resist unwanted or unsafe intercourse," Buve stressed. (END/IPS/lm/pm/99)
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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