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Reinforcing sex education in high schools

Students in the Niger capital Niamey participating in an essay contest aimed at reinforcing understanding of HIV/AIDS and reproductive health. November 2009
Boureima Balima/IRIN

High school students in the Niger capital, Niamey, learned to put HIV/AIDS and reproductive health in a broader context during a recent essay contest.

"In preparing my essay I learned that AIDS is not a death sentence," said one female student who requested anonymity. "This kind of exercise should be encouraged because it allows students to increase their knowledge of AIDS and its consequences."

Nearly 500 students in Niamey participated in the recent contest, an initiative of the Réseau National des adolescents et jeunes en population et développement (RENAJEN/POPDEV).

Students were asked to cover one of two themes: what kind of moral support to offer to a friend who learns he/she is HIV-positive, or what advice to give to someone who does not practice birth spacing, said Hinsa Garba of RENAJEN.

The contest aimed to bring home the concept of responsible sex to students, Ousseini Boubacar, the head of RENAJEN, told IRIN. "At the same time, by participating in this contest the young people give us the opportunity to gauge their knowledge of reproductive health and HIV/AIDS."

Niger authorities welcomed the exercise. "It's a good strategy, not only for educating youths about sexually transmitted diseases, but also to call parents' attention to the necessity to facilitate openness and debate about these subjects," Mallam Issa Mallam Souley, national population director, told IRIN.

Abdoul-Kader Moussa, one of the contest winners, told IRIN: "I said in my paper that I would tell a friend not to be discouraged, and to follow the treatment as prescribed by a doctor." He said this was based on things he had learned in radio and television education programmes about HIV.

Cultural factors sometimes trump education  about 40 percent of adolescents in Niger have sexual relations before age 15, according to the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS); 97 percent of women have never had an HIV test. UNAIDS said the determining factors included low education, economic dependence, and early sexual relations and marriage.

Niger has an HIV infection rate of 0.7 percent. In its 2008-2012 poverty reduction strategy the country aims to keep the rate below that.


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