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UGANDA: HIV-positive Teens Infecting Other Teens

Joshua Kyalimpa

KAMPALA, Jul 1 2010 (IPS) - HIV-positive Phiona* (19) had unprotected sex with her best friend and she prays that she did not infect him with the virus. She knew she should not have let it happen but Phiona was too scared to tell him her status, and the teenagers did not have access to condoms.

“He kept pestering me. I knew my problem but feared to disclose to him for fear he would hate me. He was my best friend at school,” says Phiona.

And now it has become a moment that will haunt her for the rest of her life.

Juliet* is also an HIV-positive teenager who was born with the virus. She too says she had unprotected sex with some members of her school drama group and also did not reveal her status to them.

“When we go out for trips in the drama group they somehow pair up and have sex back stage or in the toilet. And because of peer pressure you find yourself with no option but to have sex too,” Juliet says, adding that she has sexual desires too.

Juliet and Phiona are just a few of the many HIV-positive teenagers in Uganda born with the virus who are now becoming adolescents and exploring their sexuality.


At least 30,000 infants are born with HIV every year according to Dr. Steven Watiti of the Mildmay Centre, a health facility that offers treatment to mostly HIV-positive children. And with improved treatment for HIV, many of these infants have grown to adulthood posing a health risk to other teenagers through unsafe sex.

But the Ministries of Health and Education cannot agree on whether school going children should be provided with condoms to prevent further spread of the virus.

Minister of education Geraldine Namirembe Bitamazire says school going children need to control their sex desires until they finish school.

“There is sex education in schools particularly in upper classes to prepare children for such a time when they should be ready. And that time is certainly after school when they get married,” Bitamazire says.

But Major Rubaramira Ruranga, head of the National Guidance and Empowerment Network of People Living with HIV, says the department of education’s approach is a time bomb.

“We need to combine ethics and responsibility. It’s true that children should delay sex but we all know that children are starting sex early. We need to save them from getting HIV from those who already have the virus and if condoms are the solution so be it.”

Rubaramira, who has been living with HIV for many years, says government has a responsibility to provide condoms even to school children so that they grow up understanding its normal to use them.

According to Dr. Jane Nakaweesi a paediatrician at the Mildmay Centre who also counsels adolescents, many want to live responsibly but have problems controlling their body’s desires and cannot freely access condoms.

“Some of them are in puberty stage and the desire, the sex desire is at its peak. Unfortunately this is the reality whether you are HIV-positive or not. The problem is that these teenagers will not have condoms at school or cannot afford them,” says Nakaweesi.

Zainab Akol, the AIDS Control Programme manager in Uganda’s ministry of health says HIV among children is a challenge to Uganda’s future generation since children make up the biggest proportion (56 percent) of the country’s population.

According to a study conducted among HIV-positive adolescents and young adults aged between 11-21 years, the majority of those interviewed preferred partners who are HIV-negative for fear of re-infection.

The study, conducted by the Paediatric Infectious Diseases Clinic (PIDC), found that HIV-positive young adults are a potential source of infection to others as they hide their status to ‘hook’ unsuspecting HIV-negative partners.

“Even some who had chosen to abstain after counselling are beginning to ask themselves: ‘Abstain until when?’” the study concludes.

Dr Sabrina Bakeera-Kitaka head of adolescent programmes at the PIDC says: “They get a new sexual partner and this, coupled with pressure from the new partner to have unprotected sex, risks further spread of the disease.”

James Kakooza, minister for primary health care, says they are in talks with the ministry of education to come up with an amicable solution as to whether or not to distribute condoms in schools.

“For us we are ready to give the condoms (to schools) but there are some concerns we have to address with our counterparts in education. We have so far convinced them to allow sex education and now we are discussing to lower the age for sex education I am sure we shall reach an agreement on condoms,” says Kakooza.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the minors.

 
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