Malawian first lady, Dr. Gertrude Mutharika, the increased usage of social media among youths in Africa is frustrating the continent’s efforts to fight HIV/AIDS.
Mutharika is the President of the African First Ladies against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA) -an organisation that brings together all first ladies in Africa to combat HIV.
Speaking during the during the Africa Health Agenda International Youth Conference held in Nairobi, Kenya over the weekend, Mutharika noted that whereas many youths have used social media such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp among others to create innovations that have promoted good health behavior among their peers, many have misused it to promoting acts that have increased the number of HIV youths infections.
Margaret Kenyatta, Kenya’s First Lady promised the youth that OAFLA is committed to support them against HIV. She notes that African governments need to understand and engage youth to establish youth led interventions to fight the HIV scourge.
Anderson Tsuma, a youth activist and chairperson of Youth Action Movement Kenya, notes that although social media and mobile technologies have the potential to prevent HIV by spreading awareness, there is a challenge of control.
He notes that there is need for African governments to sensitize the youth on the proper use of the media, that girls have been reported in the main stream media to have been raped by strangers they met via social media.
Catherine Chiboola, a youth activist from Zambia says that youth have used these technologies to get online resources, information, and learning opportunities and health information including on HIV/AIDS.
She notes that governments should make establishment of ICT centers in rural areas a priority so that youth in remote and hard to reach areas can also benefit from what social media can provide.
According a 2016 report by Unicef, an estimated 36.7 million people were living with HIV worldwide in 2015. Of these, 1.8 million were children under 15 years of age and about 17.8 million were women and girls.
The report also revealed that each day that year, approximately 5,700 people were infected with HIV and approximately 3,000 people died from AIDS-related causes, mostly because of inadequate access to HIV prevention care and treatment services.
However, according to the report new HIV infections among children are declining rapidly – approximately 70 per cent since 2001 – largely due to scaled-up efforts to prevent mother-to-child transmission.
The toll of HIV and AIDS continues to be harsh, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2015, sub-Saharan Africa accounted for the vast majority of the world’s people living with AIDS, new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths.