Former presidents of Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia and other well-known figures, including South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu, are demanding more government action and public education campaigns to prevent new infections in the respective countries.
AIDS continues to be the leading cause of death in Africa, which is home to 67 percent of all people living with HIV. In Africa, two-thirds of people living with HIV in the region are women and three out of four young people living with HIV are female.
“Some countries appeared to ignore the problem. South Africa could have done more and they haven’t,” former Botswanan President, Festus Mogae, told Reuters in an interview at the World AIDS Conference currently taking place in Mexico City. Botswana, where more than a fifth of the population has AIDS, has been cited as a rare success. It was the first African country to give out free life-prolonging drugs and to promote widespread testing.
The government under Mogae has made HIV prevention one of its top priorities and has reduced the country’s mother-to-child AIDS transmission rate from 40 percent to 4 percent during the last 10 years. More than 75 percent of HIV-positive pregnant women are now receiving antiretroviral drugs to prevent mother-to-child transmission. Botswana has achieved one of the world’s highest rates of coverage for HIV treatment, delivering antiretroviral drugs in 2007 to more than 90 percent of those who need the medications.
Inadequate knowledge of HIV needs to be addressed
The success in Botswana shows that the combined will and efforts of governments, donors, civil society and affected communities can make a difference. But there is still a lot to be done in HIV prevention across Africa, as the United Nations 2008 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic shows. It was launched ahead of the 27th International AIDS Conference in Mexico.
Many young people still lack accurate, complete information on how to avoid exposure to the virus, and young people aged 15–24 account for 45 percent of all new HIV infections in adults globally, the UN estimates.
Frank, accurate and comprehensive HIV prevention programmes for young people are needed to reduce new infections among young people, the report says.
Nearly half the world’s population is under 25. While knowledge alone is often insufficient to produce long-lasting behavioural change, an accurate understanding of the risks of HIV and how to prevent exposure is a prerequisite to risk reduction.
Many young people lack basic knowledge about HIV prevention. Survey data from 64 countries from 2007 indicate that 40 percent of males and 38 percent of females aged 15–24 had accurate and comprehensive knowledge about HIV and about how to avoid transmission. While more than 70 percent of young men know that condoms can protect against HIV exposure, only 55 percent of young women cite condom use as an effective prevention strategy. In Somalia, only 4 percent of young women (aged 15–24) report accurate knowledge of HIV, and only 11 percent of adult females are aware that condoms can prevent HIV transmission.
Although this represents an improvement – especially for females – over 2005 knowledge-levels, when 37 percent of males and 28 percent of females were found to have a basic knowledge of HIV, the numbers are still well below the UN’s goal of ensuring comprehensive HIV knowledge in 95 percent of young people by 2010.
ICTs support mass intervention against HIV/AIDS
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) can provide powerful tools to bring knowledge and health education to communities. eLearning Africa regularly features projects and initiatives that promote ICT tools for example in health workers training, medical knowledge management or public health education.
One example is “Learning About Living”, a project about the development and implementation of an eLearning system for the Nigerian Family Life and HIV/AIDS Education (FLHE) school curriculum. It was presented by Ofomata Obianuju from One World UK. The project uses ICT to equip Nigerian teenagers with the relevant skills which enable them to make informed decisions about their sexual health, prevent HIV/AIDS and gender-based violence. The multi-stakeholder project is lead by OneWorld UK, in partnership with Butterfly Works Netherlands, working with more than ten Nigerian partners.
A large number of the young Nigerians grow up ignorant of issues relating to sexuality, gender and rights due to the culture, traditions and religions of Nigerian society, according to Ofomata Obianuju. The incidences of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and HIV infection is highest among young people in Nigeria, accounting for approximately 62 percent of the cumulative AIDS cases.
The learning content is web-based at www.learningaboutliving.org. The educational approach is designed to create behavioral change. Using experiential learning, the content is illustrated with ‘info cartoons’ and the lessons are designed to engage the young people through exercises, games and quizzes. To allow both wider access and to increase the involvment of young people, mobile phones are used to support the computer-based eLearning tool. With great success: MyQuestion, the text message question and answer service, has received 10,000 questions during the first two months.
Opening Speech by Festus Mogae
27th World AIDS Conference 2008
eLearning in Health Education