— The latest research shows that efforts to reduce new HIV infections among South African teens is working. But the bad news is that girls between the ages of 15 to 24 are three times more likely than boys to contract the virus.
The South African government said more people are getting tested for HIV, thanks in part to a governent campaign that urges "Get wise, get tested, get circumcised."
President Jacob Zuma himself led the call in 2010 when he was publicly tested for HIV and revealed negative results.
United Nations figures show that South Africa still has more than 6 million people living with HIV, but there is good news on new infections among teenagers.
The Human Science Research Council of South Africa said HIV prevalence in youth between 15 to 24 years of age has dropped - from just over 10 (10.3) in 2005 to just over about 7 (7.3) percent in 2012.
Scott Burnett is senior executive manager at LoveLife
, an organization working for world without HIV. He said these positive numbers are the result of vigorous awareness campaigns over the past few years.
“Sex is far most spoken about, condoms are generally available, and people are beginning to realize that open, honest and early discussion about sex and sexuality don’t predispose young people to all the risk, they actually help them to avoid risk,” said Burnett.
But girls are more at risk than boys. UNICEF figures show HIV prevalence in girls is 13.6 percent compared to 4.5 percent for boys. The question is why.
Matebogo Mampani, a training specialist at SoulCity
, said the lack of relevant HIV awareness messages targeted to young girls is the problem.
“Sometimes you find that in the schools people wanna say abstain [from sex] - abstain when basically there are children in the same school who are pregnant, there are condoms that are used lying around in the schools,” she said.
Portia Munguambe, 19, a Lovelife peer educator, said there are other pressures - like poor girls getting lured by older men with gifts and cash and even food in exchange for sex.
“Basically we have the issue of sugar mammies and sugar daddies. You know, as teens we wanna fit into the lifestyle of having fancy things, for example having my hair done, having those heels [high heel shoes],” she explained.
Portia said building self-esteem and confidence in young girls is part of the solution. She also has some straight talk for her peers. “Be safe, condomize and do everything with your powers to protect yourself,” she stated.
Portia said unless enough teenagers are trained to communicate such messages to kids their own age, it will be a long time before the rate of HIV prevalence among young girls comes down.