Fears over raising youth infections

Hundreds of young people marched to the Mew Way Hall to listen to speeches on World Aids Day.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) say they are worried about the alarming spread of HIV/Aids in the townships and warn that it could kill thousands of young people, unless they become more responsible.

Speaking at a World Aids Day event, in Mew Way Hall, where hundreds of young people gathered, on Thursday December 1, the TAC’s provincial chairperson Mpumi Mantangana said the number of cases of HIV/Aids among young people, between the ages 15 to 35, was shocking.

She called for a change in behaviour among the youth, saying they must take charge of their lives.

“Every week, we diagnose about 2 000 young people with HIV. Youth must take the centre stage now. We need to hear their voice. They have to change their behaviour,” she warned.

Ms Mantangana blamed alcohol abuse and recklessness, which she said led to unsafe sex. She called on youth to demand condoms at schools.

The goods news, she said, was that easily accessible antiretroviral (ARV) drugs had helped to turn HIV into a “manageable chronic disease and not the beast it was known to be”.

The next step, she said, was reaching the UNAids’ 90-90-90 treatment target.

“Now we have to find positive people that will make us reach the 90-90-90 target which is that 90 percent of people living with HIV know their HIV status, 90 percent of people who know their HIV-positive status are accessing treatment and 90 percent of people on treatment have suppressed viral loads.”

Ms Mantangana, who also works for the MSF, admitted there were some key challenges and people did not go to the clinics and hospitals to fetch their treatment because there were long queues.

“We need to take the treatment to people. As MSF we have tried so hard. We know why men do not go to clinics and hospitals. They need their comfort space something that is not in our facilities. But we now have male clinics, youth friendly clinics and evening clubs for men in Site B that start from 4pm to 7pm. We are doing our best to accommodate everyone,” she added.

City Health’s Nomabhelu Sopili raised concerns about the growing trend of the so-called blessers. She said young girls fell for older men because they supported them financially. She called for an end to the practice, and cautioned older men against taking advantage of young girls.

“Young people should stop watering plants that were never meant to grow. If you cannot afford something that does not mean you should sleep around for the sake of getting whatever you need. Stay away from blessers, they do not care about your future. No sex exchange for clothes or any other thing,” she said.

Funani Mbiwo, who is living with HIV, said he was happy that HIV no longer carried the same stigma it once had.

“It is good that the authorities are doing these campaigns. We contracted the disease because we had no knowledge. Today’s youth cannot be as blind as we were. If they are positive now, they have themselves to blame,” he said.