“When I was younger, I did not know anything about HIV,” says Zelalem, a 15-year-old youth from Ethiopia. “Thanks to sex education I am now much more aware how to prevent HIV and how HIV is treated. It is important to know your status, to take care of yourself by having treatment and to take care of others by having protected sex.”
Zelalem is one of tens of thousands young people that have recently followed the World Starts with Me, a comprehensive sexuality education programme of Rutgers which is taught in twelve countries in Africa and Asia. On World AIDS Day 2014 it is good to read what he and his friends have learned about relations, sexuality and HIV.
Making informed decisions
Their words show how comprehensive sexuality education is crucial in preventing new HIV infections and increasing acceptance of people living with HIV. It reaffirms the statement of UNAIDS in its 2011-2015 Strategy Getting to Zero, how ‘(...) comprehensive sexuality education empowers young people to make informed decisions regarding their sexual health and behaviour while playing a part in combating damaging beliefs and misconceptions about HIV and sexual health.’
In the World AIDS Report 2014 UNAIDS calls for the international community to embark on a fast-track strategy to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030. Maintaining the current levels of investment will cause the epidemic to bounce back and increase the number of new infections and AIDS related deaths. Only rapid scale up of treatment, testing and HIV prevention can end the epidemic by 2030.
Rutgers experience shows how comprehensive sexuality education may be the missing link to achieve the end of the epidemic and make it sustainable for generations to come. Comprehensive sexuality education supports structural behaviour change on a personal and community level. It helps young people to realize their sexual and reproductive health and rights and to respect those of others.
The story of 16-year-old Tizita confirms how comprehensive sexuality education can contribute to achieving UNAIDS’ third zero: zero discrimination. “My neighbour is HIV positive. I used to avoid her because I thought her disease was contagious. Sex education learned me how HIV transmission happens and also how lonely and cast out people with HIV can be,” she says. “Now I help her by doing groceries, cleaning and washing clothes. I think people living with HIV should be treated with love and respect.”