Hope for the girl child

WHILE house parties have become attractive to impressionable adolescents, the youths risk contracting sexually transmitted diseases, among them HIV, as sex orgies have become fashionable at the parties.

Known as “vuzu” or “Sunday Chillers” in Bulawayo, Harare youths refer to them as “pool parties”.

The parties are characterised by alcohol and substance abuse, as well as sex orgies.

A report by Active Youth Zimbabwe indicated that at one time, nearly half of teenagers in the country participated in these parties.

“A total of 47,3 percent of teenagers aged between 15-19 years are reported to be involved in wild parties, where they abuse dangerous drugs, alcohol and perform sex competitions, which they later regret,” reads part of the report.

These parties are predominantly in the country’s two largest cities and have become the subject of national conversation.

In efforts to raise awareness on issues surrounding wild parties, the DREAMS (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, Aids-free, Mentored and Safe) project was established.

The DREAMS initiative is an ambitious partnership to reduce HIV infection among adolescent girls and young women in Zimbabwe, which is being implemented in six priority, high HIV burden districts.

The DREAMS supported districts are Bulawayo, Chipinge, Gweru, Mazowe, Makoni and Mutare.

During a National Aids Council media tour, DREAMS Ambassador Zimbabwe Ms Rejoice Moyo revealed that social isolation, economic disadvantage, discriminatory cultural norms, orphanhood, gender-based violence and dropping out of school all contribute to girls’ vulnerability to HIV.

“While there’s nothing wrong with attending parties, it’s what takes place at the parties that is appalling. Had there been just parties, no one was going to raise an issue socially and morally,” said Ms Moyo.

She added: “What I’ve realised is that most girls are abused and engage in sexual activities to make a living. The DREAMS project is therefore empowering the girl-child to be financially independent. That way, cases of sexual abuse will go down.”

According to a report by the Zimbabwe Population-based HIV Impact Assessment (Zimphia), a number of cultural and economic factors make girls more vulnerable to HIV.

According to the report, the annual incidence of HIV among adults (15-64 years) is 0,45 percent; of which 0,59 percent was recorded among females and 0, 31 percent among males.

The HIV prevalence among adults (15-64 years) is 14,6 percent. Females again recorded a high percentage rate of 16,7 as compared to 12,4 percent among males.

Bulawayo provincial Aids manager Mrs Sinatra Nyathi said young people are key in eradicating HIV.

“While there is a downward trend in new HIV infections, we still face a challenge among young people as they engage in risky sexual behaviours,” said Mrs Nyathi.

“We are running a comprehensive HIV awareness campaign in schools and the vuzu parties are no longer as prominent as they used to be. However, we cannot say that they have stopped completely but we are happy with the progress.”

Added Mrs Nyathi: “With the DREAMS programme, we are trying to catch them young as it is an in-school initiative, mentoring and empowering young girls in terms of sexual and reproductive health.”

The only positive indicator highlighted by the report is the prevalence of viral load suppression, which is higher in women with a 64,5 percent against 54,3 percent among males. Worldwide, a quarter of all new HIV infections occur in women aged between 15 and 24 and the sad part is that the majority of these young women live in sub-Saharan Africa, where six out of every 10 people living with HIV are women.

When it comes to options for HIV prevention, women, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa, have for a long time been “denied” a level playing field due to lack of options to protect themselves.

In sub-Saharan Africa, approximately 60 percent of new infections in the 15-24 year age group occur among girls and young women, where unprotected heterosexual sex is the primary driver of the epidemic.

In Zimbabwe, HIV-positive girls and women in this age group outnumber males three to one.

Mr Renias Mundingi, the FHI 360 programmes manager, said through the DREAMS programme, his organisation is empowering the girl child through the Find Your Talent module.

FHI 360 is an organisation that works with the youth.

“Through the Find Your Talent module under the DREAMS project, we strive to empower the girl-child by encouraging them to find the power, passion and talent within them, to find something they can do to financially empower themselves,” Mr Mundingi said.

The DREAMS initiative is also being implemented in Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

The programme started in October 2015 and is running up to September 2018.

The 10 DREAMS countries, all in sub-Saharan Africa, account for nearly half of the new HIV infections globally with approximately 1 000 adolescents being infected with HIV every day.

DREAMS is being supported by the US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Girl Effect, Johnson & Johnson, Gilead Sciences and ViiV Healthcare.

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