UNPROTECTED sex heightens the risk of unwanted pregnancy or acquiring sexually transmitted diseases. The recent UP Population Institute survey on sexual practices of young people shows about 5.4 million engage in premarital sex without protection.
Out of 1.4 million involved in casual sex, more than half a million young men have sex with men. The same survey shows that only 17 percent of young people have correct and comprehensive knowledge of HIV and Aids.
This leaves out a huge percentage of the population who hold with them various misconceptions. Even the advent of technology and of the fact that most of those in the urban areas have the means to go online most times does not guarantee that information on reproductive health is adequate.
Among young people, sexual debut is something that they do not share with parents and if they have sexually transmitted diseases, they only get ostracized and stigmatized.
As I have mentioned in the previous column, it is not only that people seek treatment when it is too late, but that many still think that they are not vulnerable to HIV and Aids.
Even among us, a regular medical check-up is often seen as an additional cost that one can do away with especially when there is no medical emergency to speak of.
Time and again, medical experts and health advocates have reminded the public that HIV can only be passed on from person to person through body fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal or anal secretions, and breastmilk. It can get into the system through unprotected sex; injecting drugs with a needle that has infected blood on it; from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding; and infected blood donations or organ transplant.
It is good to note that medical hospitals, clinics, and facilities have taken adequate and strict measures to test pregnant women during their pregnancy consultation, as well on screening blood donations and organ transplants.
Still, information dissemination on HIV and Aids needs to go beyond the confines of health facilities and down to the local communities where many would tend to think that they cannot be infected in any way.
Health messaging and communications planning should dare to reach out to ordinary men and women to better understand the frame that dictates reproductive and sexual health behavior and practices. Beyond boardrooms, health practitioners have to actively work with young people to enable them to claim their reproductive health right.
Families with members infected with HIV need to also be able to talk not only among themselves but with other support groups to not only understand the how’s of case management but also to provide the needed warmth and understanding for HIV and AIDS survivors.
One of the most common myths of people living with HIV is on the cure for HIV. There is no cure yet for HIV, but antiretroviral treatment works and will keep someone living with HIV healthy and productive. The key is on early diagnosis and intervention.
Despite the glaring increase in the number of cases, there is still an absence of a national policy on reproductive health that will lay down the framework on how to respond and avert the increasing number of cases.
Where the usual top-down approach to planning makes it impossible for individuals and the community to act responsibly in preventing infection, we are continuously challenged to do better. Integrating reproductive health rights and HIV and AIDS protection will ensure continuum care and generate better demand for adequate information and services. By working together, reproductive health can become a reality for all.
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