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ANGOLA: Youth key to halting epidemic

Photo: Dawn Soisson
Young Angolans have almost all the risk factors associated with the spread of AIDS
luanda, 1 December 2004 (PlusNews) - Angola, which has maintained a relatively low rate of HIV infection, could see an exponential spreading of the virus if it did not act quickly to educate its youth, according to a new report.

Young Angolans have almost all the risk factors associated with the rapid proliferation of the epidemic, said a joint UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), Populations Services International and USAID study.

These factors include low levels of education, multiple partners, one of the world's lowest ages for sexual debut, low condom use, one of the world's highest fertility rates and a high poverty index.

"Angola now faces a battle far larger than any confronted during 40 years of conflict," said UNICEF's Angola representative, Mario Ferrari, in a press release obtained by IRIN on Wednesday, World Aids Day. "All sectors of society must recognise that tackling AIDS in Angola means preventing HIV infection among youth."

Around a million people were killed during Angola's 27-year civil war and millions more were displaced. With an official HIV infection rate of 5.5 percent, health workers have said that, paradoxically, the conflict may have slowed down the spread of the virus by halting the movement of people.

Now, almost three years after a peace accord was signed between the government and UNITA rebels, millions of people have returned home and Angolans are on the move again throughout their country.

Health workers have said that 2005 may be the final window of opportunity if Angola is to avoid the disaster the epidemic has wreaked in nearby countries.

The study, entitled 'Sexual Knowledge, Attitudes and Behaviour', surveyed 10,500 urban youth aged 14 to 24. It showed that nearly 70 percent of sexual activity among young people was unprotected, 43 percent had had sex by the age of 15, and over one-third of young males had slept with two or more partners in the previous three months.

It also revealed that 90 percent of respondents were unable to name all three principal ways of avoiding HIV, 42 percent of youth were completely unconcerned, or only a little worried, about catching the virus, and the average age of casual partners for girls aged 24 was 39.

But, suggesting that it was not too late to act, the report said that when well informed, youth were quick to change their behaviour patterns.

Theme (s): Children,

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

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