Adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa are exposed to diverse influences regarding lifestyles that are healthy and appropriate – running the gamut from their peers, the norms of community elders, to those of sophisticated global media campaigns.
Although a multitude of programmes focusing on individual behaviour change among adolescents (aged 10–19) and young people (aged 15–24) have been imported from the North, the merit of such approaches in curbing the HIV/AIDS epidemic is questionable. Even those that are more home grown and attempt to incorporate traditional values have not proven effective enough. The large number of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) programmes, on the other hand, consist primarily of mitigation approaches for young children (housing, food and education assistance) (Foster et al. 2005). Most do not recognise that the majority of orphans and children whose parents are HIV-positive or AIDS-unwell are in fact adolescents (UNAIDS 2004a), and have a great need for information and skills on sexual and reproductive health and development. These topics are frequently omitted from OVC programmes, as the subjects are culturally sensitive, awkward for implementers to deliver, and avoided by some donors. Images of innocent orphans needing charity do not ‘sync’ with the fact that these children are also emerging sexual beings. The links among OVC status, HIV risk and the need for social and economic support have not been made clearly enough. The young people who reside in households most affected by AIDS – which because of AIDS are also frequently poor and socially disconnected – are in fact the very same young persons for whom vulnerability to HIV infection is also high. Only a few recent research efforts (discussed below) make this crucial link. This article brings together research findings to help elucidate these connections. Evidence on the gendered associations among poverty status, orphanhood, social capital and HIV risk for young people in sub Saharan Africa will be highlighted and its implications discussed.
This article comes from the IDS Bulletin 39.5 (2008) Researching the Determinants of Vulnerability to HIV among Adolescents