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World - Africa

Uganda's successful anti-AIDS program targets youth

Efforts in Uganda to reach young people have produced a decline in the spread of AIDS  

September 3, 1999
Web posted at: 5:24 p.m. EDT (2124 GMT)

From Correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault

ENTEBBE, Uganda (CNN) -- In the world of AIDS in Africa, Uganda is something rare -- a success story.

Although roughly 10 percent of Uganda's population of 20 million is infected with HIV or has AIDS, Uganda has one of the most aggressive, and some say most effective, AIDS control programs in the world.

Uganda's effort has produced a decline in the rate of AIDS in the country at large, and at one major hospital, from 24.5 percent of its patients in 1989 to 13.4 percent in 1998. The focus is specifically on young people, who have the fastest- spreading rates of HIV infections and AIDS in the world.

The Ugandans say what they've learned about educating young people about safe sex is you have to speak their language, using music, videos, radio and newspapers to spread the message.

Radio program reaches mass audience

No one in Uganda speaks that language better than the staff at the Straight Talk Foundation, a nonprofit group established in 1994. They produce a hip, weekly radio program that reaches more than 1.5 million young people, often going where they are and letting them speak their mind.

At the Straight Talk office, Director Ann Akia Fiedler says one of the biggest challenges is debunking some of Africa's sexual myths.

radio broadcast
The Straight Talk Foundation produces a weekly radio program that reaches more than 1.5 million young people  

Among the most common, she said: "If a girl stays a virgin for so long, the hymen becomes as hard as a rock. For guys, it says if you don't have sex right now, your penis will shrink more and more."

Fiedler says the foundation can tell by the feedback it gets that the campaign is working.

"Many of the letters had that tone like, 'Oh well, this girlfriend, I want to have sex with her. She doesn't want so I'm going to get another girl who can have sex with me,'" Fiedler said. Other letters tell of couples talking about condom use, she said.

Straight Talk helps young people learn how to communicate and negotiate their way out of difficult sexual situations. It works closely with a number of other organizations and institutions, such as "youth-friendly" one-stop clinics where teens and young adults can get advice about sex and sexually transmitted diseases.

Meanwhile, as pleased as public health officials are with their progress, many Ugandans are saying they're not doing enough. AIDS is still claiming the lives of too many people at every level of society, from doctors to rural farmhands.

Ugandan health officials say poor countries must find ways to use limited resources to maximum advantage, calling on both the public and the private sectors -- and in this case, the young people themselves.

Africa welcomes news of cheaper drug to prevent newborn HIV transmission
July 14, 1999
Life expectancy in Africa cut short by AIDS
March 18, 1999

International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care
Uganda: The Pearl of Africa
CIA World Factbook: Uganda
HIV InSite
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