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SOMALIA: Youth-friendly magazine passing on HIV/AIDS message

Photo: KOOR
HARGEYSA, 5 July 2006 (PlusNews) - In the self-declared republic of Somaliland, where discussions about sex remain taboo, a group of young people have been passing the HIV/AIDS message on to their peers through a youth-friendly magazine, Koor.

The name is the Somali word for the wooden bell worn by herd camels to avoid them getting lost. Created in 2003, Koor provides basic information on HIV/AIDS to the youth, who in turn can use the knowledge to protect themselves from contracting the virus.

"We realised that the youth have very little basic knowledge of HIV/AIDS, they had few facts and a lot of fiction about the disease," said Koor's editor, 22-year-old Ilham Sheik Muse. "It made us realise that they needed a leader to pass vital and comprehensive information on the disease, we therefore established Koor to lead them."

Although Somalia's HIV infection rate remains low at 0.9 percent, UNAIDS nevertheless says Somalia is "approaching a generalised epidemic". Ignorance about HIV persists in this conservative Muslim country, and many Somalis perceive HIV/AIDS to be a "foreign" problem that is unlikely to affect them.

A behavioural study conducted by the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) in Somalia in 2004 found that just 26.6 percent of women in Somaliland had heard of condoms. Only 13 percent of men and three percent of women in the region had ever used one.

"During a survey we conducted last year about the use of condoms in Somaliland, some boys said that they think condoms are not safe and they instead use polythene bags when having sex," Deq Saeed, of UNAIDS Somaliland, said recently.

The free, quarterly magazine - supported by Unicef and a local nongovernmental organisation, HAVOYOCO - is run entirely by young people, who report on HIV-related issues and interview people in the region to find out their views on the pandemic.

Following increasing demand among young Somalis, Koor expanded to the semiautonomous region of Puntland in the northeast and to southcentral Somalia, bringing together the youth in a country deeply divided by clan loyalty.

Koor also tackles health, development and entertainment. For instance, it highlights the health risks - including higher HIV risks - posed by female genital mutilation, which is practised almost universally in the Horn of Africa nation.

In its third year now, Koor's editor says the magazine has registered positive impacts in terms of influencing behaviour change and prevention and control.

"After the youth got the knowledge of how HIV is spread, an overwhelming number have employed precautionary measures, which include abstinence and the use of condoms, so most of them are not ready to risk contracting HIV," Muse said.

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

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