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#WhatWomenWant

Kgomotso Moagaesi

My name is Kgomotso Moagaesi and I’m from Botswana. I currently work with the University of Botswana (UB) clinic as a student assistant and am part of the #WhatWomenWant campaign working group. This blog will highlight what works when it comes to HIV prevention for adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) in my own community, in response to UNAIDS’ 2016 guidance, HIV prevention among adolescent girls and young women: Putting HIV prevention among adolescent girls and young women on the Fast-Track and engaging men and boys. 

Information stalls 

Last year at my University, we held a stall during family planning week to sensitize and inform the student community on sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and HIV prevention services available to them from the UB clinic. It was an effective exercise, as many young people stopped to ask questions and watch condom demonstrations. One young woman mentioned that she didn’t know about the birth control implant, and was very grateful for the family planning information we provided. 

Going forward, we need more informative pamphlets, colorful posters and stickers on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and services, as well as HIV prevention methods to give to AGYW. 

Talks and Presentations 

The University of Botswana (UB) recently started a project to conduct daily SRH talks during lunch hours. The talks have proven to be helpful; young women attend in sizeable numbers for the opportunity to learn and ask the health personnel questions. A wide range of topics are discussed: vaginal discharge, signs of pregnancy, how to use a female condom and initiate the use of a female condom, amongst other topics. 

Adolescent girls face similar challenges and need these messages as well, which is not an easy task due to lack of access. A heavy reliance on school-based education programs that cater to the needs of this age group has created a further challenge, as programs tend to be lessons rather than discussions where individuals feel free to comment, raise concerns and ask questions. More, these talks are carried out by older nurses, and girls don’t always feel free to express themselves and ask questions due to the age gap. 

SRHR talks should be led by agemates to be most effective, creative and custom made for adolescent girls and young women. 

Social Media 

This category covers a wide range, so for the sake of relevance it’s noteworthy to point out which aspects work best. Blogs, tweets, Facebook posts and Whatsapp chain messages are often used for advertising events and spreading the message about SRH services available nationwide. Social media efforts are hard to ignore, as young people spend most of their time on these applications. Last year there was a march for HIV and AIDS prevention at UB, advertised on Facebook with hashtags, pictures and freebies - participants were told that they would get free t-shirts and a certificate of appreciation. These efforts lured in many students and the march was highly successful. 

Future efforts to engage the media should extend to the use of radio stations and television, like TV drama shows that depict the culture of a community vis-a-vi SRH and HIV prevention talks. Injecting a little bit of creativity can make a lasting impression in the minds of young people. It would be interesting to see young leaders in the community given a platform on the radio to host and facilitate diverse discussions around SRHR and HIV prevention methods, using young people’s experiences to call other young people to action through peer education. 

Campaigns 

Campaigns can be used to spread information on SRH and HIV prevention quickly and easily. If they are clear, non-technical, and simple to understand they can reach a wide geographic area. Memes of pictures with comical captions, or those relating to everyday life problems can be used to educate young people. It could be as simple as, “When the condom bursts you can trust the morning after pill”. Campaigns should follow and adhere to current youth circle trends to reach AGYW. 

The challenge that seems to be prevalent in this area is the focus of campaign messages to AGYW as opposed to males. Young males seem to be excluded from SRH talks and discussions yet they too have a role to play. 

Surveys 

Questionnaires distributed at information stalls can be a good way to collect information and improve SRH and HIV prevention techniques. A survey of this nature was carried out at UB, aimed at young women; it asked what they knew about SRH and whether they were aware of the clinic at UB. One of the suggestions made was to have SRH talks and services publicized and conducted frequently - not only on family planning week or occasionally.

Challenges 

All the above tools become ineffective when they do not reach AGYW most affected in rural areas due to lack of resources and education. They live far away from development such as technology. They spend normal days doing chores and have no time to listen to the radio or walk to the clinic for SRH education. As a result, when faced with challenges of sexual issues, they don’t know how to react. It is then evident that many unplanned pregnancies and new HIV infections exist in these areas due to lack of information and access to resources. The issue must be addressed by physically taking information to them. 

The words used for HIV prevention and SRH programs are quite complex. An individual with an average education would find no interest in trying to read a SRH article. It is most likely that individuals will ignore these terms and assume they are meant for health professionals. Simple, clear definitions of the technical terms can be used to encourage people to learn more. Without this, more new infections will occur and people will cite ignorance as a reason. 

Community members should also get more involved. Church leaders, role models, celebrities, non-governmental organization leaders and others have a strong role to play in ending HIV and AIDS and educating young people on SRH services. Involve them at foundational level before branching out to technical and health professionals. They should be trained and sensitized for more impact. They are influential members of the community and can reach far more AGYW than any other mechanism; therefore, they must be involved. 

Other suggestions to reach AGYW

• Have a color run or marathon for SRHR and HIV prevention 

• Compile talks by AGYW on SRHR and HIV prevention into a book that can be easily accessed 

• Involve males in these issues by asking them to pledge to assist. 

• Conduct events, conferences, webinars and talks at national and international levels 

It’s time to be inclusive, innovative and entertaining about SRH and HIV prevention techniques. With the age of technology and other 21st century developments, we cannot continue using an old yardstick to spread new messages. The only way to reach adolescent and young people is to talk like youth, interact like youth and be creative.