Rates of HIV in young Africans are falling as they start having sex later, new research shows. The prevalence of HIV among young people in the world’s Aids hotspots, mainly Africa, have gone down by as much as 25 per cent as people aged between15 and 24 alter their sexual behaviour.
Across the world, five million young people live with HIV, making up 40 per cent of new infections. UNAids, the United Nations programme on Aids/HIV, which carried out the research, says Aids prevention campaigns have triggered the dip. "A change is happening among young people across the world, especially in parts of sub-Saharan Africa" where about 80 per cent of infected youths − four million −live," said UNAids. "Waiting longer to become sexually active, young people have fewer multiple partners and there's an increased use of condoms among those with multiple partners," the agency found.
Botswana, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia and Zimbabwe have cut their prevalence rates among youths by a quarter. And Burundi, Lesotho, Rwanda, Swaziland, the Bahamas, Haiti, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia count among countries which are on track to meeting the same target by the end of 2010 the research found. This is a "breakthrough essential for breaking the trajectory of the AIDS epidemic," said UNAids. But in Uganda, which had been praised for its HIV fight, Aids is actually on the rise, the UN says, because people are getting careless. Uganda's vigorous campaign against HIV/Aids did work to lower the rates of the virus − which hit 30 per cent in the 1990s − to single-digit figures."After the reduction and introduction of treatment, most of the people were not feeling any more of the same pressure for prevention programmes," said Michel Sidibe, of UNAids. "So what we are experiencing today in Uganda is what we need to be scared about it - it's progress, and not sustaining [those] results due to probably a complacency."Mr Sidibe told the BBC.
But the other figures, for the rest of Africa are a positive sign of change, he said, as young people have started taking responsibility for their own health and well-being. "Young people do not just perceive themselves any more as a passive beneficiaries of programmes, but they are making themselves actors of change," he said."For me, that is a major, major shift in our prevention programmes." The figures come out just before this year’s international conference on Aids, which starts in Vienna on Sunday.