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 Wednesday 03 October 2007
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CAMEROON: "Aunties" teach pregnant teenagers to prevent HIV/AIDS and STIs

YAOUNDE, 13 March 2006 (PlusNews) - Teenage pregnancy is a growing concern in Cameroon, where young people make up most of the 5.5 percent of the population living with HIV, according to the National Network of the Associations of Aunties (Réseau national des associations de tantines - RENATA).

Dr Flavien Ndonko, an anthropologist at the German Cooperation Agency (GTZ), based in the capital, Yaoundé, noted that between 20 percent and 30 percent of young mothers had unplanned pregnancies, of whom one-third were aged between 13 and 25, and a quarter of them would end up dropping out of school permanently. More than half the girls became pregnant after their first sexual encounter and a second child usually followed within two years.

The 61 "auntie's associations", members of RENATA, offer a help line and drop-in service that provides psychological help and advice to teenagers in eight of the country's 10 provinces, but these facilities are still unknown among most Cameroonian youth.

Marlyse, 25, was just 18 years old when her four-month-old baby died, while Lysette, 21, (last names withheld) is bringing up her six-year old son alone - the boy's father is her uncle.
Both fell pregnant and dropped out of school, joined a local "auntie's association" and subsequently became members of RENATA.

Neither of them turned out to be HIV-positive, but some of their friends weren't as fortunate.

"If I did not join the network, I would have been pregnant again, I am certain of that - I would most likely be HIV positive by now," declared Marlyse, a pretty young woman from Bafoussam in the western part of the country, who works as a bookkeeper at RENATA.

Marlyse is one of 5,000 girls RENATA has educated about contraception and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and now teaches other young girls and their mothers, who are often just as uninformed.

"Many girls come to see us ... they all want advice but are a bit at a loss as to how to deal with their problems. They want to talk about rape or need advice on sexual matters; they ask how to keep their boyfriends or how to terminate a pregnancy," Marlyse commented.


The "aunties" also discuss the dangers of not using condoms, such as HIV/AIDS, Lysette told PlusNews. "When we talk about pregnancy, we talk about HIV - they go together. That is why I don't encourage them to use contraceptive pills: only condoms will protect them from HIV."

Parents are a major obstacle. "The girls are afraid of their parents - it's often what stops them from talking, especially if their parents are strict. A lot of them end up doing stupid things, like throwing away their children or killing themselves while trying to self-induce abortion," said Marlyse.

She speaks from experience: "When the neighbours came to inform my father that I was pregnant, my mother started beating me up as if she wanted to kill me and screaming for all to hear that I slept with everyone." Nevertheless, she believes she got off lightly because her baby's father was there.

This was not the case with Carole, Marlyse's 21-year-old friend, who died as the result of a second back-yard abortion. "She swallowed some herbs, her baby died in her womb and her parents refused to take her to the hospital because they had had enough of her."

According to a study by the Germano-Cameroonian Health Program (SRJA), 18 percent of 4,000 teenage mothers interviewed admitted having had an abortion, 62 percent had given birth before the age of 19, and 10 percent before the age of 16. Most had never seen a doctor during their pregnancy. Twenty-six percent of the girls had contracted a sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the previous year.

Dr Ndonko pointed out that "a young mother or a teenager with an STI lives in such a state of despair and isolation that their need for psychological support is necessary, if not vital".

RENATA doesn't have enough resources to address this problem, but are reaching out to teenagers by visiting them in schools and suburbs, in an attempt to restore their self-esteem.

Theme(s): (IRIN) Care/Treatment - PlusNews


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