AHF Zambia – the southern African country’s branch of AIDS Healthcare Foundation – conducted a massive HIV testing and counseling campaign in 20 local high schools in the country’s Lusaka Province between June 10th and 28th. Out of the 7,725 students AHF Zambia tested, 253 tested positive for HIV –more than a 3% seropositivity rate.
“The current trend indicates that 40% of all new HIV infections occur among young people aged 16 to 24 years of age. By encouraging access to HIV testing and counseling among this age group, the trend can be reversed as more and more young people adopt and maintain lifestyles that will prevent new infections among those who are HIV negative and will enhance wellbeing and longevity among those who are HIV positive,” said Ntula Simwinga, AHF Zambia’s Prevention Program Coordinator. “The activity reflects the government’s commitment to preventing the spread of HIV among young people.”
Partnering organizations on the campaign included the Ministry of Education, Science, Vocational Training and Early Education, the Ministry of Community Development – Mother and Child Health, the United Nations, Planned Parenthood Association of Zambia (PPAZ), and the Zambia Centre for Communication Programmes (ZCCP). Financial support was provided by the European Union.
Students at each participating secondary and high school were provided with group counseling and mass sexual health education, which was then followed up by one-on-one counseling after the test where students are given their diagnosis on the same day and can understand what that result (whether positive or negative) means for them with regards to lifestyle.
The individual counseling also gave the young people the chance to learn about and discuss developing sexual behavior and for those who tested negative to be reminded that they can still get HIV from sexual partners and should be diligent about using protection like condoms. At least 10 short education seminars were also provided during morning assemblies in addition to ongoing sensitization meetings.
The team did uncover several obstacles during the campaign, including the fact that many children under the age of 16 wanted to get tested for HIV, but were disallowed by their parents. Additionally, condom discussion was prohibited in all of the schools for fear of crossing the line between education and promotion, Simwinga said. Additionally, it was found that the students were impacted by a high rate of teen pregnancy due to sexual abuse in addition to adolescent sexual activity – at Kamulaga High School alone, 21 pregnancies have been recorded so far this year.
“We noticed that we had a lot of children that are engaging in sexual intercourse and there is a need for safer sex education,” said Simwinga. “This was noticed by their requests for condoms from the counselors.”