HIV/AIDS misconceptions among teens-A A +A
Tuesday, July 3, 2012
(Author’s note: The opinion expressed herein does not necessarily reflect those of the researchers’ who conducted the sociological study)
WHILE it has become a national debate among Filipinos whether or not to enact House Bill 4244 or RH bill into RH law, intellectuals, mostly from the academe, have turned to research to discover and predict potential advantages and disadvantages either way.
Being a health professional and a sociologist, I walked an extra mile to find a sociological study that is reflective of the issues addressing reproductive health (RH).
In my meticulous search, I stumbled over a qualitative study by sociologist Dr. Magdalena Cabaraban and medical practitioner Dr. Maria Teresa Sharon Linog that dealt with the adolescents’ reproductive health and risk behaviors in selected communities of Northern Mindanao in 2004.
Although their study encompasses five major topics -- RH rights, knowledge regarding sex and sexuality, family relationships, health-seeking behaviors of adolescents and RH services -- this article will only limit itself to misconceptions regarding HIV or AIDS that had been gathered from the adolescent respondents.
The study covered a total of 136 male and female youth aged 13 to 19 years from small communities in Iligan City, Lanao del Norte, Balingasag, Misamis Oriental and Cagayan de Oro city.
The study revealed that majority of the respondents were able to identify that HIV or AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases (STD) or infections (STI) are diseases that a person can get through sexual intercourse.
Furthermore, the study found that the concept of AIDS for the said respondents was always associated with STDs or STIs when in fact the latter are actually a broad range of sexually-acquired infections, one of which is AIDS.
In a medical perspective, HIV is the virus which is known to cause the disease AIDS. In terms of transmission, HIV can be acquired also through non-sexual means like needle sharing among intravenous drug users or in the process of giving birth when the mother is already infected and through blood transfusions.
Unfortunately, the respondents of the said study limit their idea on how HIV or AIDS is transmitted to sexual intercourse. As such, when the researchers asked them how one could prevent acquiring the disease, their predominant answers revolved around having sexual contact without any protection and having multiple partners.
Moreover, they limit the concept of multiple sexual partners in the context of a married couple wherein the husband has sexual affairs outside marriage or with a partner who is paid for sex without protection.
This has led the researchers to the conclusion that for the adolescent respondents to avoid HIV infection, the latter believes they have to refrain from having sexual relations with prostitutes.
In reality, hospitality workers or prostituted women are not the only ones who are potentially carriers of HIV.
But despite of this limited perception among the respondents, the researchers claim that there is high level of awareness on HIV or AIDS and STDs among the respondent youths and the researchers attributed this to the massive campaign and advocacy work of the government, NGOs and civil societies.
The researchers also found that respondents were able to pinpoint the use of condoms as an effective way of preventing an infection.
Meanwhile, few of the male respondents from urban and rural areas claimed that being in a monogamous relationship is the best way of preventing an HIV infection.
On the other hand, false beliefs or misconceptions about HIV and AIDS also prevailed among the youth respondents.
One of which is the false belief that one can acquire HIV or AIDS through kissing when the saliva of an infected person is passed on to another.
Another misconception was that the use of personal belongings of the person with AIDS will transmit the disease and that one can get HIV or AIDS if one gets too close to a person with AIDS and then that infected individual coughs.
Lastly, the youth respondents believe that HIV or AIDS can be acquired by sitting on a space previously occupied by an infected person.
Based on the results of the study, the researchers were able to detect that the youth respondents acquired their information about STDs, HIV and AIDS from school.
In particular, science teachers had been identified as the number one source of information by the youth respondents in school. As a matter of fact, two of the respondents maintained that they know of gonorrhea because such disease had been discussed to them by their teacher at school.
Unfortunately, one disturbing finding of the study was the claim of a 15-year old female respondent that a teacher had told them that one could acquire HIV by sitting on a seat previously occupied by an infected person.
Lastly, the study claims that other sources of information about HIV/AIDS among the youth respondents were parents, elder siblings and the media.
Personally speaking, the sociological study previously shared was an objective eye-opener on how the youths of today perceive HIV and AIDS. The misconceptions for me can already be considered gross especially on the ignorance on the part of the sources of information that the youths turn to. It also tells us of the magnanimous importance of the roles that teachers or educators play in dispelling myths or false beliefs regarding the phenomena on HIV and AIDS.
Lastly, the family, being the most immediate source of information about life in general, plays an indispensable role of educating siblings who knew less or had erroneous information regarding HIV and AIDS.
Should lawmakers pass RH bill into law, a provision in it states that the government will provide a mandatory-age appropriate RH and sexuality education that will teach pupils starting Grade five up to fourth year high school using life skills and other approaches. Such educational approaches will incorporate developmentally-appropriate topics that include values formation, STI and AIDS awareness and related matters into the curriculum.
But whether the RH bill, when pass into law, solve all the misconceptions and better educate the youth in terms of reproductive health or not calls for another sociological study to measure its success.
(Comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on twitter @ polo_socio)
Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on July 03, 2012.