BLANTYRE, MALAWI —
In Malawi, the United Nations Population Fund and Malawi government have launched the first ever national HIV/AIDS prevention drive that seeks to promote and increase condom use among youths. The effort, known as Condomize! Campaign, is also the first of its kind in Africa.
The drive comes in response to the government’s call for programs that will help reduce the prevalence rate of HIV among young people.
Bidia Deperthes, the UNFPA’s director of the campaign, said, “We have 12 African countries that have the highest HIV prevalence rate, and Malawi has been pressing to say ‘our young people want this campaign, our government wants this campaign.’ So, it was really a push for the national government asking the UFPA to make sure that this campaign reaches young people.”
The latest Malawi Demographic Health Survey shows that young people under age 30 make up more than half of all Malawians infected by the HIV virus that causes AIDS. This is largely attributed to low condom use.
Health surveys show that most youths in Malawi shun condoms. Some want to avoid being labeled as promiscuous and the myths that condom use takes the pleasure out of romance.
Activities during the campaign include displays of various types of condoms and on how to use them effectively.
The youths are also being treated to live performances of artists who incorporate the message of condom use into their songs.
“You know condom use is at the moment is very low," said Deperthes, "so the first thing [we are doing] is creating demand [for condoms among young people]. And after taking the condoms they should be able to utilize [them] correctly and consistently.”
Malawi government authorities say the campaign is a boost to a larger effort aimed at improving the health of young people.
Justin Saidi, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Youth Development and Sports, said “Basically there are a number of strategies that government has put in place to keep our youths healthy and promote the use of condoms. But as you are aware, we have to look at the use of all strategies because we need all stakeholders to come in and assist us so that at the end of the day we are keeping our youth healthy.”
Some say the campaign encourages young people to have sex. They say promoting abstinence would have been a better option
But Saidi disagrees.
“Not necessary that, said Said. "Yes, we try to say ‘abstain’ but they are out there, and you cannot control them [what can we do]. We are all aware that the age group we are talking about is sexually active. So we decided that if we have to control them, let’s have mechanisms that would help control these youths and the use of condom is one of them.”
The campaign is currently targeting college and university students. Organizers hope to eventually target other youth gatherings..
According to UNFPA officials, a similar campaign is scheduled to be the launched in Zambia towards the end of October.