Updated 10 January 2014

Youth sidelined by HIV messaging

Local activists are concerned that HIV education campaigns may be missing the nation’s youth

Local activists are concerned that HIV education campaigns may be missing the nation’s youth, especially on condom use.

With millions infected, South Africa continues to be at the epicentre of the global HIV/AIDS pandemic, and if recent statistics are anything to go by, there is no relief in sight.

“The national prevalence rate has risen from 5.4 million in 2008 to 6.4 million at present,” the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) revealed during the 6th South African Aids Conference, in Durban, June 2013.

Yet despite these alarming figures, South Africans are not concerned enough to change their sexual habits – and this nonchalance seems to be more pronounced among the younger population when it comes to condom use.

Read: HIV Awareness should be elevated all year

The behavioural findings of the HSRC survey reflect a significant decline in condom use, especially among the 15 to 24 age group.

HSRC officials are urging greater education on the benefits of condom-use in the form of media campaigns and at school level.

Anti-HIV messaging works

Anti-HIV messaging has proven to be effective across the globe, especially among the youth, and statistics are available to back this up.

Statistics South Africa details how much of an impact messaging can have on the youth. In 2002 the HIV prevalence among local youth (aged 15-24) was at 13.6%, but dropped to an amazing 8.7% in 2012 and then to 8.5% by mid-2013.

However, activists are concerned that complacency in messaging could reverse these successes.
Patrick Mdletshe, the provincial chairperson of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) feels that the HIV messaging in some of the campaigns should be redesigned for the youth in order to make them more aware of the situation.

“Most of the messages are thought out by adults; we never get perspective from the young people as to what the messaging should be,” he told Health24.

Read: HIV/Aids awareness works

Tell it like it is

In 1980's Uganda implemented the ABC strategy which stands for Abstinence, Be faithful, use a Condom. Each letter of the ABC consists of its own component. A for Abstinence urges young people to abstain from sex until marriage, B is to be faithful and not have multiple partners, and C is for condom use.

The ABC strategy definitely resulted in a 15% to 5% decline in HIV prevalence among Ugandan youth between 1990 and 2001.
So, how can South Africa improve on it HIV messaging for the youth?
Mdletshe suggests we improve on what we’ve already used, but create a sense of seriousness, instead of entertainment value.

“One of the things that South Africa is doing wrong is that they try to bring entertainment and education together. Once you do that, the message becomes less effective because the entertainment will distract the youth,” says Mdletshe.

How do you think we can get the condom message across to SA’s youth? Let us know in the comments below or send us an email at

Read More:

Text messages to raise HIV awareness

Bleak Aids message for SA schools

The youth are unaware


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Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria in 2005. She is a patients' rights activist and loves using social media to teach about HIV. She is in private practice in Johannesburg.

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