In the West African countries of Togo and Benin, adolescents and young people are confronted by various obstacles in accessing sexual and reproductive health services.
Organized by the World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (WCC-EHAIA) West Africa regional office in Lomé, Togo, a workshop for 25 adolescents and young people from Benin and Togo helped participants make safe, responsible choices that prevent HIV infection.
Over two days, young people and adolescents drawn from the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Togo, Methodist Church of Togo, Protestant Methodist Church of Benin, Christian Council of Togo, the association of people living with HIV Espoir Vie Togo, the Young Men’s Christian Association (Togo), Muslim Union in Togo and some private schools, shared experiences on the importance of accessing youth-friendly services in health centers and the need for available adapted and appropriate information to help them make conscious choices.
While the world is celebrating the advances made in the HIV response, at the same time, there is a significant rise in adolescents and youth group living with the virus. Almost 2 million young people ages 10-19 are living with HIV. It is therefore crucial to revisit available information and services in order to respond efficiently to young people.
The UNAIDS country director in Togo, Dr Christian Mouala, addressing participants, said: ”I am convinced that the youth engagement is fundamental to solve the current HIV situation”.
In addition, the national AIDS secretariat Prof. Vincent Pitche, who officially opened the consultation, said: “Investing in the human being is the most rewarding investment, particularly investing in young people in order to bring down the epidemic by 2030. Therefore, be encouraged, young people and adolescents attending this consultation, to share the acquired knowledge and information with other young people”.
The workshop highlighted the major cause of HIV risk for adolescents and young people: the lack of dialogue and communication with their parents on sexuality as sex continues to be a taboo. They have also identified the main source of information - the internet - as both positive and negative and have underlined the need for help in reformulating, understanding and choosing.
To support the above, Mme Toure from the Togo Muslim Union and professor at the Islamic School said: ‘The intimacy and the complicity between parents and children should start from early childhood to enable children to feel free to ask questions, share challenges and seek proper advice”.
As a powerful tool to deconstruct, contextual study of sacred texts has created a safe space to share the experience of women in the Koran and the Bible on the right to inheritance. (Number 27; 1-17 and Sourates 4:11-12).
The workshop ended on a positive note with youth leaders committed to take action in churches and schools — both public and private — to raise the alarm on the importance of comprehensive education about sex, violence and HIV, and promote “Thursdays in Black”, a campaign against sexual and gender-based violence.