Normalization of unprotected sex among youth: A concern for HIV/AIDS control

By Amanda Kporwofa
Article A file photo
FEB 27, 2024 LISTEN
A file photo

Two weeks ago, I engaged 10 young people (five males and five females between the ages of 18-24) in an informal interaction to understand their sex habits with respect to whether or not they preferred to use condoms.

To my surprise, only one of the people I engaged said they used condoms in their last sexual intercourse.

While two others said they had sex by “accident” and thus they did not have time to consider using condoms, the rest intentionally did not use condoms.

It was the argument of those who did not use condoms that wearing condoms made them feel “unnatural” and offered less sensitivity.

“I have used condom before but I did not enjoy the sex as much as I did without the condom and that made me revert to the natural way of doing things,” one of them said.

I gathered that some used condoms at the initial stages with their partners but when the relationship grew over time, they did not find the need to use condom due to familiarity and the belief that they were safe with their partners.

This was a very scary revelation to me in the wake of the rising cases of HIV/AIDS cases and new infections especially among young people.

Data from the World Health Organisation indicates that HIV remains a major global public health issue, claiming 40.4 million [32.9–51.3 million] lives so far.

The WHO reports that there were an estimated 39.0 million [33.1–45.7 million] people living with HIV at the end of 2022, two thirds of whom (25.6 million) are in the WHO African Region.

In 2022, 630 000 [480 000–880 000] people died from HIV-related causes and 1.3 million [1.0–1.7 million] people acquired HIV, it said.

The UNAIDS Global AIDS Update 2022 Report entitled: In Danger- Revealing the Potentially Catastrophic Impacts of COVID-19 on Health Systems Worldwide” shows that West and Central Africa have the second-highest number of people living with HIV in the world, with an estimated 5.9 million.

In Ghana, there have been concerns about the increasing cases of new infections.

Data from the Ghana AIDS Commission indicates that the Ashanti Region alone recorded 4,618 new cases at the end of the third quarter of 2023, representing 2.1 per cent increase over last year.

Within three months after the distribution of self-testing kits for HIV, the National Aids Control Programme (NACP) identified more than 100 new HIV-positive cases.

Dr. Stephen Ayisi Addo, Programme Manager, NACP told the Ghana News Agency at the time that about 80 per cent of the people who had accepted to do self-testing had never tested, a situation he described as worrying.

Dr Addo said it was dangerous for people who engaged in unprotected sex not to know their status and encouraged the public to take advantage of the initiative to know their status in their best interest.

The aforementioned data pinpoint that HIV is real and continues to be a threat to the populace and that required continuous caution and preventive mechanisms to stem the rapid spread.

There is a subtle notion among young people that HIV is not as deadly as it used to be, but that notion is misplaced as available data shows that the disease remains a killer and should be feared.

Although access to effective HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care, including for opportunistic infections, HIV infection has become a manageable chronic health condition, the fact remains that there is no cure for HIV infection.

There is the need for enhanced sensitisation in schools so that children will appreciate the deadly nature of the disease, and abstain from practices that could expose them to contracting and spreading the disease.

The self-testing kit should also be easily accessible and people should be taught how to use it.

When people get to know their status, it becomes easier for them to take steps to either prevent them from contracting the disease or improve their health in case they test positive.

The fact remains that HIV is real and continues to be deadly. Efforts at combatting the disease should not be an event but an everyday practice so that together we can ensure an HIV-free society.