NAC sees ray of hope at “Rise Up” House

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    NESTLED in the heart of the sprawling compound of Chawama in Lusaka, Rise-Up! House has become a popular meeting place for girls and young women aged between 15 and 24.

    At the house, the girls have a library, computer lab, a garden of healthy vegetables, a TV room and kitchen but most importantly, it is also a centre were they can freely access information on HIV prevention as well as antiretroviral therapy.

    The centre is an initiative of Charles Drew University (CDU) of Medicine and Science in the United States of America.

    To celebrate Youth Day on March 12, the girls gathered to reflect on their time and involvement with Rise Up House and there could not have been a more appropriate guest of honour than National AIDS Council director Dr Connie Osborne.

    NAC director Dr Connie Osborne tours Rise Up House and interacts with members on Youth Day

    As Dr Osborne addressed the gathering, she pointed out that young people were one of the most vulnerable groups with regards to HIV and AIDS.

    She said young people still remained vulnerable to HIV despite
    “hearing the word AIDS pretty often.”

    She noted that there was still confusion and misinformation surrounding issues of sex and HIV prevention.

    “I do acknowledge that talking about sex and sexuality is difficult.
    Often these subjects are treated with suspicion and mistrust – even by parents and teachers,” she said.

    Dr Osborne said it was however inspiring to see that Rise-up House and other partners had shown interest in the continued prevention of HIV especially among young people by key stakeholders such as CDU.

    She emphasised that young people were key in the fight against the pandemic and that by giving them the support they need, they could be empowered to protect themselves against infection.

    She noted that embarrassment and ignorance went hand in hand and many young people ended up knowing little about sexuality and HIV/AIDS.

    “What they do know often turns out to be dangerously inaccurate information,” she observed.

    Dr Osbourne stressed that Rise-Up’s efforts to contribute towards ending AIDS in adolescents and young people was critical to achieving the set targets for the country.

    “The work you are promoting is of great significance to the nation as you are raising awareness of the HIV epidemic in adolescents and young people and increasing understanding of how to prevent HIV and AIDS,” she said.

    Dr Osbourne said according to the ZDHS 2018, comprehensive knowledge among young people continued to be low below 50%, showing that there was no significant improvement in comprehensive knowledge among adolescents.

    Dr Osborne with youths at Rise Up

    “…this only shows that many young people do not know how to protect themselves against HIV or how to care for people living with the HIV. Many have a sense of invulnerability, and believe that they will never get HIV. To make matters worse, much of what is written on HIV and AIDS is technical and abstract, saying little about the personal experiences of people struggling with living with HIV,” she observed.

    She said time had come to be innovative in the approach to information sharing so that it was relevant and useful to young people “as they have tremendous enthusiasm, energy and optimism.”

    “It is my appeal that we support programmes that will make young take charge of their own lives and be role models for their peers. What happens to them today will determine what becomes of their communities and societies in the decades ahead. What we see today is a ray of hope at Rise Up! Flourishing garden, vibrant and energetic adolescent girls and young women, this is a true reflection of partnership that government policies aim to achieve by creating an enabling environment,” she said.

    Dr Osbourne said Rise-Up’s championing of “all these programmes is steering our country in the right direction” and wish the centre all the best in its endeavours.

    And CDU Country Program Director Ntula Simwinga said Rise-Up House provided unique services to vulnerable girls from the community.

    Simwinga, who is a public health expert, said adolescence was a time when young people underwent rapid physical, emotional, intellectual and social changes as their bodies mature.

    “This stage of development can lead to challenges at the individual, family, and community level. Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to HIV infection for social, political, cultural, biological, and economic reasons,” he said.

    “They account for approximately 40% of new HIV infections globally. An estimated 2.2 million adolescents are living with HIV, around 60% of whom are girls. Additionally, this age group also has the highest rates of sexually transmitted infections,” added Simwinga.

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