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HIV is rampant among young people in South Africa, despite sound knowledge about sexual health risks. Levels of perceived vulnerability among this group are low and unprotected sex is common. Researchers from the London School of Economics studied a participatory programme seeking to empower young people to change gender norms as an HIV prevention strategy.
In peer education programmes, members of target groups provide health-related information and condoms to their peers. The researchers argue that an important goal of peer education is to enable young people to develop critical consciousness about their sexual health.
Summertown is a township near Johannesburg with a population of 150 000. It has high rates of crime, violence and unemployment, and disappointing rates of school completion. Twenty young people volunteered to be peer educators – 10 men and 10 women. They were trained in participatory HIV prevention methods and supplied with free condoms for distribution. The researchers held eight monthly focus group discussions with them. Interviews focused on three aspects of social capital: civic participation, perceived trust and helpfulness, and a positive local identity.
The research revealed factors that may inhibit the development of critical awareness of sexual health issues in this setting, including:
Other factors likely to undermine the success of the programme include:
The researchers recommend a combination of strategies in the fight against HIV in South Africa over the long term (e.g. macro-economic development), medium term (e.g. changing norms of sexual behaviour) and short term (e.g. aggressive detection and treatment of sexually transmitted infections).
Other strategies include:
‘Peer education, gender and the development of critical consciousness: participatory HIV prevention by South African youth’, Social Science and Medicine 55: 331- 345, by C. Campbell and C. MacPhail, 2002.
HINARI subscribers can access the full-text article here. Full document.
Funded by: UK Department for International Development; UNAIDS
id21 Research Highlight: 5 February 2003
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