Rise in new HIV infections among adolescent girls worrying

New HIV infections continue to increase among adolescent girls and young women than other age groups, the National AIDS Council (NAC) has said.

NAC Bulawayo Provincial AIDS Manager, Sinatra Nyathi, bemoaned that while new HIV infections were decreasing in all other demographics, the figure was proportionately high in adolescent girls and young women.

“Imagine, in all the age groups HIV is going down but adolescent girls and young women are getting new infections,” she confirmed while addressing female learners at the commemorations of the International Day of the Girl Child on Tuesday.

NAC is mandated to coordinate Zimbabwe’s multi-sectoral response to HIV and AIDS, with the goal of ending the pandemic by 2030, but Nyathi challenged everyone to play their part.

“We realise young girls attend vuzu parties, where unplanned pregnancies, HIV, STIs, and other diseases emerge. As NAC, we are on the path to achieving epidemic control, but we must also prevent further HIV spread. However, new infections continue to be identified, with adolescent girls and young women being disproportionately affected,” she said.

Girls, according to Nyathi, must make informed decisions in this digital age.

“There are school dropouts due to a number of reasons-unemployment, poverty, harmful gender norms and our girls remain very susceptible to HIV through cultural and social practices. As NAC we coordinate the DREAMS programme where we say young adolescent girls and young women should be determined and resilient,” she said.

“You can’t sell your life over that red box of chips yet you can be a Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) girl who is educated and empowered and buy as many of those red boxes as you want.”

Nyathi emphasized the importance of abstinence in HIV prevention.

“We can abstain from sex, it’s not necessary to destroy your life. Even if you have started indulging in sexual activity as NAC we have what we call secondary abstinence where someone realises that they are not going anywhere with having sex. You need to stop having it today and start planning for the future because you will start dying prematurely,” she advised.

“We want girls to take over but girls cannot take over because of the decisions they make. You can still abstain from sex and plan your life. I always thank God that I didn’t destroy my life over five minutes activity of risky sexual behaviours.”

Despite work done by NAC, Nyathi admitted documenting new HIV infections was discouraging.

“Right now, I am very disappointed over new infections coming from adolescent girls and young women yet this is the digital generation where we can get information from WhatsApp, bulk sms and all the digital platforms that are there but here we are as young girls in this digital generation we are busy looking for pornography,” Nyathi claimed.

“Why go to those sites? Make the best of yourself. Stand up, face the world and say I’m going to prevent HIV and STIs from my personal life. Say I’m going to prevent unplanned pregnancies because girls will end up tempted to do illegal abortions.”

“A lot of girls are dying,” Nyathi continued, “I don’t want to give you statistics, but as you hear my voice, I don’t want you to be part of that statistics.”

“Even if you have HIV, keep taking your pills because some people get excited and throw away their drugs then they die. We don’t want you to die young; HIV is still real and a lot of people are dying, and unfortunately, it is young girls,” she explained.

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