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AFRICA: Making VCT more youth-friendly

Voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) programmes have been known to increase the adoption of safe sex behaviour among adults, but not all VCT services are effective and appropriate for young people, a study has found.

In both Kenya and Uganda, large numbers of young people were aware that HIV testing was available to them but far fewer were aware of a facility close to where they lived. More than 75 percent of untested youth in Kenya and about 90 percent in Uganda expressed an interest in getting a test.

An important finding was that most tested youth intended to practise safer sex, such as abstaining from sexual intercourse, monogamy, using condoms or reducing the number of sexual partners.

"We were surprised to discover that about 10 percent of the youth in the study who went for testing were not sexually active but still wanted counseling and accurate information about HIV," Dr Ann McCauley, a principal investigator for the study, was quoted as saying.

But about 25 percent of tested youth in both countries did not receive adequate counseling recommended for VCT. Counselors were dismissive and lacked training in how to counsel youth. Only half of the counselors interviewed in Kenya had received such training, the study said.

"They should have sat me down and explained my status and counseled me on how I should take care of myself instead of treating me as if I were the first one to be diagnosed HIV positive. They made me feel as if I would die tomorrow," a 21-year old Kenyan woman, who found out she was HIV positive, said in the study.

Community attitudes towards youth receiving confidential teting services were not supportive and youth felt intimidated by this. Young people reported disapproving responses and antagonism from their parents and other adults if they knew that their child had taken an HIV test, the study noted.

Another barrier for youth was the lack of confidentiality of the VCT services, as up to 80 percent of the participants in both countries cited lack of confidentiality as a serious problem. They suggested that VCT services be provided in separate youth facilities so it would not be apparent that a young person entering a facility was seeking an HIV test, the study said.

Another concern raised in the study was affordability. Respondents suggested lower prices would allow more of their peers to take advantage of testing and counseling.

The next phase of the study will use these findings to implement full-scale, youth-oriented services, including training experienced youth counselors. Also planned is a new communications campaign to promote VCT among youth and to make them aware of these services, the study added.

The study - recently conducted in Uganda and Kenya by researchers from Makerere University, the AIDS Information Centre, the University of Nairobi and the Horizons Project - sought to understand youth experiences with HIV testing and factors inhibiting them from using VCT services.

The research team conducted a survey, in-depth interviews, and focus group discussions among youth, parents and community leaders in Nairobi, Kenya, Kampala and Masaka, in Uganda.

For more on this study:

Theme (s): Children,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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