Factors That Fuel the Spread of Hiv Infection Among the Youth

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FACTORS THAT FUEL THE SPREAD OF HIV INFECTION AMONG THE YOUTH Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a blood-borne transmissible virus and globally this virus and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is causing devastation by destroying communities, families and taking away hope for the future. Malawi has not been spared of the catastrophe brought by HIV/AIDS and the prevalence rate amongst young people between the ages of 15 and 24 remains unacceptably very high. As per the 2008 National Census report, the youth in Malawi comprise over half of the whole population and this is the age group that has disproportionately been affected by HIV/AIDS pandemic which, unfortunately, has no known cure to-date. In order to fight the spread of HIV amongst the youth it is necessary to know and effectively address the factors that drive the spread of HIV. In Malawi there are several well-documented factors that fuel and facilitate further the spread of HIV among the youth and such a constellation of variables range from cultural determinants across the continuum to socio-economic, environmental, psychosocial and other structural determinants – all related to the whole spectrum of societal life, thus they are social, cultural and economic in nature. The primary risk factor that is exponentially perpetrating the spread of HIV in youths is the widespread multiple and concurrent sexual partnership. Especially so among young men who have good economic background and having several sexual partners is socially seen as prestigious - a sign of popularity, potency and manhood. On the other hand, peer pressure and competition to out-do each other among the youth is driving young men into multiple sexual relationships. Among the youth, those who abstain or resist advances from the opposite sex are labelled with derogatory terms like ‘ndiwe wotsalira’ (slow and backwards) while those young men who have multiple partners, especially with beautiful girls are labelled as “real men” and female youths who have many sexual partners are seen as beautiful and attractive. Powerful metaphors such as ‘you do not eat nsima with the same relish everyday’, ‘no motor vehicle moves without a spare tyre’, ‘a young man cannot stay without sex’ and ‘...after all EDZI ili mu ufa’ support this deadly multiple and concurrent sexual partnership practice. In some cases youths have multiple relationships in order to compare who among their multiple partners is good at sex and the use of cell phones when setting up appointments for each of their sexual partners in different places constitute some of the ways in which the youth claim to manage these multiple relationships without conflicts. Multiple sexual partners are at risk of contracting and spreading the deadly HIV in their sexual circles mainly due to unprotected sex. Low, inconsistent or lack of condom use is also common among the youth due to strong misconceptions and negative attitudes towards condoms. Many youth believe that there are no gains in having protected sexual intercourse and a significant proportion feel that sex using condoms is less pleasurable than ‘plain sex’ despite the obvious advantages of preventing sexually-transmitted infections or unwanted pregnancies. Powerful metaphor supporting this notion is ‘you do not eat sweet in its wrapper.’ Some young men believe that ejaculating direct into the vagina was a proof of manhood and this in turn ensures that the young female partner will not ‘underrate’” them. On the other hand, some rural young girls believe that semen contains important ingredients (like vitamin K) which would make one look attractive and that condom use would prevent this benefit. Other young girls think that condoms are not hygienic and that the oil in condoms causes cancer and as such it is better to have plain sex than to get cancer from condoms. Others think that condoms can burst and get stuck in the vagina hence they avoid using condoms and consequently expose themselves...
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