Last Updated: 06 December 2009
Some sections of the elite in the country are suggesting that Ugandans’ perception of sex has changed in recent years and that the availability of pornographic materials threatens to increase the country’s HIV/Aids rates and unintended pregnancy.
As a solution, some of them are calling for government censorship of the internet if its abstinence programme is to continue to be successful. This argument, based on no evidence to speak of, misses the point entirely.
More young people are abstaining from sex today than in the past. However, evidence has shown that all three prongs of the A-B-C approach contributed to the decline in Uganda’s HIV/Aids prevalence and not any single one of them on its own.
There is a correct perception that it is extremely worrisome that the HIV decline is plateauing or even reversing, however the answer is not promoting abstinence-only programmes, which evidence has shown do not work in preventing sexually transmitted infections and teen pregnancies.
And the answer is certainly not to hold up China’s censorship of the internet as a model to follow, as this would cut young people off from a broad range of information including objective news sources and, ultimately, the rest of the world.
Rather, policies and programmes should focus on ensuring that young people are armed with accurate and comprehensive information so they can protect themselves against HIV/Aids and early pregnancy and thus stay in school and go on to lead productive lives.
In a study of over 5,000 young Ugandans of ages between 12 and 19 conducted by the Makerere University Institute of Social Research and the US-based Guttmacher Institute, we found that while nearly all young Ugandans have heard of HIV and Aids, they lacked detailed knowledge of how to protect themselves from infection.
Only 28% of young women and 37% of young men can name two methods of HIV prevention—such as abstinence and using a condom—and have the knowledge to reject three common misperceptions, such as the belief that HIV can be transmitted by a mosquito bite.
Knowledge of pregnancy prevention follows a similar pattern—nearly all young people know pregnancy is something that can happen to a young woman, but many do not know that a girl can get pregnant the first time she has sex!
The surest way to reduce Uganda’s high rates of HIV and Aids and teen pregnancies is to ensure that young people receive accurate information before they become sexually active.
Our study found that half of sexually experienced 15-19-year-olds have never received family life education at school. We also found that young people rely more than they would like on peers for information about sex and that they would prefer more information from trusted sources such as doctors, nurses and teachers. We should honour this healthy interest in prevention education and offer young people more information, not less.
The author is the Director of International Research, Guttmacher Institute.The article was co-authored with Dr. Stella Neema, a Research Associate, Makerere Institute of Social Research.