by JIMMY OPOT

Today is Worlds Aids Day and shocking statistics reveal that 51 per cent of new HIV infections are among young people aged 15-24 years. This is according to a report by the National Aids Control Council. Despite the national HIV prevalence rate going down, our focus should now shift to our youthful population. Our economic progress is anchored in the young people. It is, therefore, important for them to lead a healthy lifestyle.

Many young people in Kenya today lack basic knowledge about their sexual reproductive health and rights. The youth fear getting tested to know their HIV status. Knowing one’s HIV status is the first step in working towards zero infections in line with the sector goals on HIV. It is estimated one in five youth aged 15-24 years reported their sexual debut before the age of 15. Condom use at first sex among youths aged 15-24 years stands at 67 per cent for girls and 58 per cent for boys. This is a clear illustration that many of the young people still engage in risky sexual behaviours.

What is alarming for young people is that as the sexual relationship grows, 89 per cent of women between this age gap reported they abandonedthe use of condoms with a partner of unknown status. However, adolescents and youth account for 70 per cent of Kenya’s pregnancies, according to NACC 2015 data. These situations can be reversed by regularly disseminating knowledge and information to young people and providing access to reproductive health and rights services.

Poverty has also greatly contributed to the spread of HIV among young people who struggle to make ends meet. The introduction of Prep as a drug to shield the body against the HIV virus for people who are at risk is a big step towards ending new infections. More knowledge and education is, therefore, needed around Prep to ensure our young people today do not abuse this opportunity. Prep, just like condoms, should be used correctly. Our health facilities should integrate youth-friendly services, which will encourage the youth to seek services.

Lastly, as we mark the World Aids Day, we should know that HIV-Aids is a manageable condition. We should send stigma as it has negative influence on the attitude and self-esteem of those infected. People living with HIV-Aids need love and care from society. Society should create safe spaces in our schools, work places and social joints. Stopping stigma against HIV will encourage more young people to get tested and adhere to medication for those who test positive. Our message to the youth is that they should be bold and plan their life’s goals, which starts with knowing their HIV status.