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HIV/AIDS and sexuality: concerns of youths in rural Zimbabwe

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Concerns regarding HIV and AIDS were elicited from 546 school youths (51% female, age range 9–25 years) in a Zimbabwean rural district, through a self-generated question-writing process. Concerns emerged around how to avoid HIV infection at a time when they were undergoing secondary sexual development, had growing feelings of love, and were even engaging in sexual activity, while they had limited access to preventive methods due to denial by the adult world. Fears were expressed in regard to how to tell one's HIV status, even just after sex. HIV and AIDS were visualised in terms of suffering, loneliness, quarantine and death. The youths stressed they would have difficulties communicating with other people should they suspect or find they were infected with HIV, as this would imply they had been sexually active. They seemed to have knowledge about HIV and AIDS which either was incomplete or they could not apply, given a context of silence and denial about their sexuality. Some of their knowledge was coloured with misconceptions, suggesting contradictory information from multiple sources. After more than two decades of the epidemic in Zimbabwe, the scenario portrayed raises questions about HIV/AIDS interventions targeting young people. The question posed is why is the situation of these youths in this state when several stakeholders are actively participating in debates and interventions for the sake of their wellbeing? HIV/AIDS campaigns and interventions may need to consider young people's complex social contexts, the factors generating and sustaining their situation, and what role diverse actors and social-change processes play in this.
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Keywords: COMMUNICATION; HEALTH KNOWLEDGE; ITERATIVE RESEARCH; QUALITATIVE RESEARCH; SCHOOL CHILDREN; SEX EDUCATION; SEXUAL AND REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH; SOUTHERN AFRICA

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2009-12-01

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