Findings of a survey on adolescent reproductive health in four African countries suggest that sex education needs to be stepped up to protect the next generation of youth against HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
The study was conducted in Ghana, Burkina Faso, Malawi and Uganda; it was funded by the Melinda and Bill Gates foundation and the Gutmacher Institute, both of the United States. The results will be communicated to policy makers and health care providers in each participating country.
One of the lead researchers, professor Kofi Awusabo-Asare of the University of Cape Coast, said the study was to find new evidence in the lives of young people. “Nearly twenty years of HIV/AIDS and ten years after the international conference on population and development, we needed to look at issues affecting young people again. What do we do differently to protect this younger generation?”
Surveys on adolescent sexual reproductive health have tended to focus on 15-19 year olds but this time, coverage was extended to 12-14 year olds. Professor Awusabo-Asare said researchers wanted to find “what they know, how much they know and what they think should be done to help them to obtain information on sexual and reproductive health.”
Equal attention was also paid to male respondents unlike previously when the focus was focused on female respondents. Professor Awusabo-Asare explained that in Africa “HIV transmission is [mainly] through sex and therefore [there was the need] to let the male respondents understand the role they play [so that] programs and policies can be planned targeting these various needs.”
Key findings indicate that the youth have some knowledge about HIV/AIDS but very little about other sexually transmitted diseases. There was also lack of information about menstrual cycles, periods within which a woman is most fertile and other reproductive issues.
“Some of them said if a girl had sex standing up she would not get pregnant,” he recounted.
Professor Awusabo-Asare said it is important to find exactly what young people want and the best way to package information “in such a way that the young people will be able to get a lot more information either through the school system or through the health worker.”
There is also the need to think about how best to use the media and other sources of information to communicate to young people.