How to reduce HIV, teenage pregnancies

World Aids Day
World Aids Day

Today is World Aids Day and HIV infections are still rising among adolescents.

There is a moral panic in Kenya today about an alleged increase in teenage pregnancies. Typically around 18 percent of Kenyan girls give birth by the time they are 18 years old, and 40 percent by 19 years old. This is a longstanding pattern. Nothing much has changed.

If HIV rates among adolescents are rising, it is not because teenagers are more sexually active today than ten years ago.

HIV prevalence is still very high at 4.8 percent of adults but teenagers and young people (15-24) now account for more than half of all new infections.

Young people often drink and take risks but they, along with many adults, have become complacent about the risk of HIV infection. Anti-retrovirals mean that contracting HIV is no longer an immediate death sentence. Young people may therefore choose not to use condoms to protect themselves.

So rather than fulminating like the Catholic bishops about teenage pregnancies, the Ministry of Health needs to intensify nationwide health education about safe sex for young people.

That is the way to reduce HIV prevalence as well as teenage pregnancies.

Quote of the day: "Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them."

James Baldwin

The American novelist died on 1 December, 1987