Sunday, July 15, 2007

Why Do HIV Rates Go Up After Graduation?

I'm in Limpopo Province with the travelling Kaiser Foundation HIV/AIDS seminar. This afternoon, our group visited the Lenyenye Youth-Center (or Y-Center), one of the benefactors of Kaiser funding. We learned that HIV rates seem to be declining among youngsters 15 to 17 but then they start climbing again, after age 18.

Several young people from Center explained it this way: once you're out of school, you're not as closely supervised as before. So the temptation to go a little wild, be a little irresponsible is great.

"When teenagers leave school, they say 'I am on my own,' " says 20-year old Itumeleng Hlokwe, a young man who has served as the Center's deejay and hopes to go to university to become a biochemist. " 'It's me against the world. My parents don't see me. My teacher doesn't see me.' " (That's Itu on the right in the photo above.)

Representing the girls' point of view is 19-year-old Katlego (pictured on the left in the photo, with me in the middle). "After school, many girls think, I have to do this," she says. They know what they must do to protect themselves against HIV and may have done so successfully throughout high school. But then, to many, it seems they have lost whatever power they had to negotiate sexual relations or safer-sex practices.

Listening to Itumeleng and Katlego it was easy to imagine that they won't be caught in the same trap. Their plans for the future--Katlego wants eventually to go into agriculture, either animal or plant production--sound so promising.

Next question: why did the Global Fund stopped giving money to loveLife, the South African NGO that sponsors the Lenyene Y-Center? The CEO of loveLife, David Harrison, mentioned that in brief remarks this afternoon. But that's a question for another day. I can feel the jet lag catching up with me.

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