Thumbs up for new HIV/AIDS education pilot

09 February 2006

Those charged with HIV/AIDS education and prevention know that saturation levels are dangerously high.

As one PhD researcher says: "They're all AIDS-ed out." Nazeema Ahmed is referring to the plethora of awareness campaigns in the media.

Ahmed, Wanjiru Mukoma and Shahieda Jansen are part of a team lead by Professor Alan Flisher, head of the Division of Child and Adolescent Health and director of the Adolescent Health Research Institute, that completed the implementation of a school-based HIV/AIDS intervention programme in 26 local high schools, reaching over 6 000 pupils. This initiative is part of the SATZ programme, a South Africa-Tanzania collaboration to promote sexual and reproductive health.

The aim is to catch adolescents before they become sexually active, which often means very early, between the ages of 12 and 14 at least.

The classroom-based project is tailored to local culture and circumstances. It is hoped it will inform the outcomes-based life skills education prescribed by the Department of Education.

"We aim to postpone the onset of sexual activity in those that are not sexually active, and increase safe sex practices among those who already are," Flisher explains.

The project grew out of an earlier European Commission-funded research network, the Adolescent Reproductive Health Network (or ARHNe), which aimed to promote health among adolescents in South Africa, Tanzania and other countries in the region. In the current project, interventions are occurring at three sites: Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; Polokwane, Limpopo Province; and Cape Town.

The seven partner universities, including three institutions in Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands, each have a specific role. The African partners are accountable for developing, implementing and evaluating the intervention locally. The European partners provide technical and scientific support.

Its collaborative nature develops expertise and encompasses workshops and postgraduate training (especially doctoral programmes) to generate new scientific knowledge in the area.

"The quantitative evaluation of this intervention is based on an experimental design, run in two groups of schools. One group of 13 schools received the full intervention, while the other 13 received a delayed intervention that was smaller in scope," Flisher explained.

Pre-tests and two post-tests measured the differences in the behaviours of interest and the psychosocial constructs associated with this behaviour, such as perceived social norms and attitudes.

As Flisher said: "By measuring the psycho-social constructs associated with sexual behaviour, we'll be able to conclude not only whether or not the programme worked, but also why it worked (or did not work). This information is of crucial importance for the development of other programmes locally or elsewhere."

While the team employs state-of-the-art approaches and techniques of programme evaluation, in situ reports have been praiseworthy of the highly interactive classes. Each student has their own workbook to record thoughts and learning.

"It isn't enough to preach abstinence," Jansen explained. "The pupils are taken through a discussion of how to escape risky or pressure situations."

But it's not only the adolescents who are being educated. Using this programme, the teachers are able to meet their young charges at their level to discuss the influences and pressures that affect their daily lives.

Ahmed said: "This was one class they didn't want to miss."

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