In Mozambique, where 11.5 percent of the population aged 15 to 49 is HIV-positive, counselors are using SMS to educate children and young adults about the pandemic, according to News Deeply.
Coalizao Youth Center is a counseling facility in Mozambique’s capital Maputo where school-going children and adults can find answers to queries relating to HIV by texting in their questions via a free SMS platform.
The center currently has 10 qualified counselors whose daily responsibility is to answer hundreds of intimate questions from anonymous subscribers.
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According to Flavia Meringue, a counselor at the facility, they receive hundreds of vital questions such as: “Will having sex with a virgin cure me of HIV?” “Do condoms transmit HIV?” and “Should I be having sex yet?”
She adds that Mozambican parents and teachers must stop denying children access to information about HIV and reproductive health if they want to curb the spread of the deadly virus among young people.
UNICEF estimates that Mozambican girls and young women are three times more likely to be HIV-positive and to contract the virus than boys of their age, largely because half of girls in the country are married before their 18th birthday.
The organization further claims that a third of Mozambican children become sexually active from as early as 14 years. This yoing population generally lacks basic knowledge about HIV transmission and prevention.
Given the level of stigma around HIV that still exists in Mozambique and other parts of Africa, UNICEF’s project “SMS BIZ” in conjunction with Coalizao Youth Center has gained great support from locals, who are eager to discuss their concerns about HIV via their phones.
Currently, more than 36,000 Mozambicans are subscribed to the service, the majority of whom are aged between 10 and 24.
UNICEF aims to sign up at least 50,000 people by the end of 2016.
Meringue says their pre-launch survey in Mozambique showed the existence of a population that lacks accurate information about preventing the transmission of HIV/AIDS as well as coping with the virus.
“When you speak to siblings and parents, there’s a risk of getting the wrong information,” she says.
Young Mozambican girls are dropping out of school to get married, further feeding into the cycle of ignorance about HIV.