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ZAMBIA: Empowering youth to prevent HIV/AIDS

With about half of all new adult HIV/AIDS infections taking place among young people, a recently launched UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) project is empowering the youth to become a part of the solution to reverse this trend.

Young people are at the centre of UNICEF's Right to Know Initiative (RTK). They are being trained to research, design, and implement communication strategies for reaching out to other young people. In Zambia, the first phase of the project has just been completed.

"The programme is underway ... in Zambia the focus is on reproductive health issues and AIDS. We are now engaged in preparing proposals and planning the next round of research," UNICEF Resident Representative Dr Stella Goings, told UN news agency PlusNews.

Participatory action research was used to gather information from the field and gave the young researchers a chance to interact with other young people.

"We took young people with no background in research, gave them a crash course in data collection and research methods and then provided them with the resources to carry it out. They were able to ask questions in a way that was relevant to the young people," Goings said.

Preliminary findings indicated that some youth in the country still believed that children could contract HIV/AIDS from eating off the same plate as their parents and that sleeping with a virgin could cure the disease. This, however, varied across the country.

According to Goings, a key finding of the research was that there was less access to information than previously thought. The findings also emphasised the importance of having youth and peer support groups to help the youth make sexual health decisions.

The RTK initiative is currently underway in Cote d'Ivoire, Namibia, Nigeria, Malawi and Ghana.

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