|Youth HIV peer educators meeting in Tajikistan|
DUSHANBE, 19 April 2007 (IRIN) – The results of two surveys released this week in Tajikistan warn of low levels of HIV/AIDS awareness among young people and a lack of knowledge about preventive measures.
One of the studies, conducted between November 2006 and January 2007 with support from UNAIDS, found that 77 percent of respondents between the ages of 15 and 24 had heard of the HIV virus, but only a little over half knew how to protect themselves from infection. The majority of HIV-infected people are between 24 and 39 years old.
"Although rapidly increasing HIV infection is already a serious concern, the low level of HIV awareness among young people is making it even more alarming," said Maria Boltaeva, the UNAIDS Country Officer.
Another survey, funded by the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and conducted at the same time, reported that some 76 percent of street children had no knowledge of HIV prevention and treatment programmes, while almost all (95 percent) sexually active street children – mostly those in their late teens – engaged in casual sex.
More than 52 percent of Tajikistan’s 7 million citizens are under the age of 19, with street children estimated at between 8,500 and 9,600.
"The reality of well-known risk factors and current [poor] medical and social conditions in Tajikistan are causing real concern. If not addressed, it could lead to a rapid spread of infection," said Amonullo Gaibov, secretary of the newly established National Consultation Commission on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
"The results of the surveys show that those measures implemented to prevent HIV infection in the country are not very focused, and there is a need to change our approach and adjust existing projects and programmes," added Gaibov.
Tajikistan has a relatively low HIV prevalence of 0.1 percent but is experiencing a steady rise in the number of infections. The total number of registered cases in 2004 was 317, but the most recent UNAIDS estimate puts the number of infections at 4,900. Injecting drug usage is the main mode of transmission, accounting for some 70 percent of all cases.
Boltaeva of UNAIDS said 55 patients had reportedly died of AIDS-related diseases since the registration of HIV cases began in 1991.