Lack of Information Results in Increase of HIV/AIDS in Armenia

YEREVAN (Armenpress)–Adolescents and young people between the ages of 10 and 24 were deemed as a high-risk demographic in Armenia who lack sufficient information and knowledge for protecting themselves against the HIV, according to a study launched late last month. The study conducted by a multi-disciplinary team with support from the National Center for AIDS Prevention, UNICEF and UNAIDS provided valuable data on HIV and AIDS-related knowledge levels and the vulnerability and needs of adolescents and young people from high-risk groups, such as children who are deprived of parental care, children in trouble with the law, interveinal drug users, other drug users, prostitutes and gay men. "This assessment is important because it provides evidence that those most at risk of contracting the disease have only limited knowledge of their own vulnerability and what actions they need to take to reduce their risk of contracting the disease," UNICEF Representative Sheldon Yett said in his opening remarks at the launch. This assessment emphasized that public service campaigns and other programs targeting those at highest risk of contracting the disease were essential to impede the spread of HIV and AIDS in this country." The "Rapid Assessment and Response of HIV/AIDS among Especially Vulnerable Young People in the Republic of Armenia" found that only 30 percent of young prostitutes, 40 percent of young interveinal drug users and under 50 percent of young gay men have a clear understanding of how HIV/AIDS is transmitted and what they need to do to protect themselves. The assessment also found that only 12 percent of adolescents between the ages of 10-19 living in institutions have sufficient knowledge on how HIV/AIDS is prevented. A similar level of knowledge was observed among children in conflict with the law. The results and recommendations made in the report on Rapid Assessment were used in the development of the "Country Specific Strategic Plan on HIV prevention among Especially Vulnerable Young People and Most At-Risk Adolescents" adopted by the Armenia Country Coordination Commission on HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria Issues. The recommendations were also incorporated into the National Program on the Response to HIV Epidemic in the Republic of Armenia for 2007-2011 which has been submitted to the Government of Armenia for final endorsement. Among the specific activities recommended in the assessment were the following: Raise awareness of HIV prevention, not only by informing young people but also by involving them in awareness-raising campaigns and peer education; Ensure that schools address HIV more openly, including in life skills education; Ensure a strong gender focus and targeted policies to reach those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds; Build accessible and youth-friendly health care and advisory services; Foster more inclusive attitudes towards those infected/affected and those at high risk. "Although the prevalence of the disease in Armenia remains relatively low, the lesson from other countries has been that unless early and effective action is taken to address the spread of the disease among high risk groups, the disease will spread unchecked into the mainstream population," Yett said. "The time to act is now."


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