OVERCOMING TABOOS SURROUNDING HIV AND SEX IN THE DRC
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, group leaders visit classrooms to inform young people about HIV and Aids and to talk more generally about sex and sexuality. Both are taboo topics in the DRC.
Today, Dr Héritier Moengo, technical manager for health and nutrition in Kinshasa, and Dr Lakis Mavueta, the health zone’s community leader, are in a classroom, ready to answer their audience’s questions on sex and sexuality in the DRC. The teenagers timidly raise their hands. For the last 20 minutes, Héritier and Lakis have talked about a number of topics with these teenagers, who are all 15 or older:
- the ways in which sexually transmitted infections are passed on
- preventative measures
- And more generally sex and sexuality.
HIV AND SEXUALITY IN THE DRC – TABOO SUBJECTS FOR HEALTH STAFF
They spend the last ten minutes of their talk holding a question-and-answer session. “In the DRC, sex is a taboo subject. Some people think that young people don’t have sexual rights,” says Héritier. But although the young people don’t find it easy to talk in front of their peers, having people who can provide information in the classroom is a success in itself. The aim of this awareness-raising programme, which takes place in classrooms, is to provide basic information and guide young people to health centres where trained staff can answer their questions in more detail. “Young people tend to seek out information from each other and there are a lot of false ideas circulating among them, particularly regarding how HIV is passed on.”
WE NEED TO CHANGE HOW PEOPLE THINK
In a special unit at health centres – known as ‘information centres’ – teenagers can talk about their situation and discuss personal problems. Héritier says that “the members of this unit are tasked with convincing young people to get themselves tested”, but this isn’t always easy, as sometimes the staff themselves have deep-seated taboos. “When young people talk about sex, adults often criticise and blame them. We need to change how people think.” Première Urgence Internationale provides training to medical staff to ensure that teenagers are not treated like children and that their problems are taken seriously. Héritier believes that currently, not enough young people visit health centres.
OVERCOMING RESISTANCE TO PREVENTION
Around 2,000 young people received information on HIV and sexuality in the DRC within schools as part of this project. For the second stage, Première Urgence Internationale aims to expand its activities and use a community-based approach. “We want to train young people so they talk to their peers. They find it easier to talk to each other about these issues.” Awareness-raising sessions could take place in religious centres and activity centres attended by large numbers of teenagers. The aim is to pass on information and overcome resistance to prevention and information exchange.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo remains one of the worst-affected countries by HIV in West and Central Africa. According to a UNAIDS report, 38% of new infections are recorded among young women of childbearing age and 83.2% of them have never taken an HIV test.