With half of all new HIV infections worldwide afflicting individuals between the ages of 15 and 24, health experts are looking for better ways to raise AIDS awareness among young people. One successful South African program was featured Sunday at the 14th International AIDS Conference in Barcelona.
LOVELIFE is the national AIDS prevention program for youth in South Africa, where studies show about half of HIV infections occur before age 20. It is something health officials are well aware of, especially since 40 percent of South Africa's population is under the age of 15.
LOVELIFE makes heavy use of radio and television, running slick ads with a good dose of music similar to those used to sell clothing, running shoes or soft drinks to teenagers.
Lonwabo Jabavu, who is 19, is a peer educator for the program. He says radio is one of the best ways to get the message across about HIV/AIDS. "Why radio? 58 percent of young people in South Africa listen to radio daily," he said. "It is one of the most accessible ways we could educate young people."
Kgapa Mabusela, LOVELIFE's outreach manager, says South African youth must be part of the solution, not just the problem. "HIV is a youth-driven epidemic," she said. "But I want to say loud and clear here that HIV prevention should be youth-driven as well."
16-year-old Tina Magagahane leads dance classes and motivates young people to adopt positive, healthy lifestyles. She says she is part of the South African generation that began to express itself after the country's first democratic elections in 1994. "So after 1994, the new generation came about. That is us," she said. "So, now, the question that comes in our minds: where are we going? Do we have a future? Yes, we do."
In fact, this teenager plans to be a doctor, a cardiologist to be exact.
Surveys show the LOVELIFE program is getting through to young people. According to the Africa Research Corporation and the Kaiser Family Foundation, 76 percent of young people questioned say the program made them more aware of the dangers of unprotected sex. And most say it encouraged them to change their sexual behavior and talk openly about HIV/AIDS, even with their parents.