Contraceptives and Condoms, Integration - HIV/AIDS, Reproductive Health Supplies, Youth

Caught Between Scylla and Charybdis: Unplanned Pregnancy and HIV

“Unplanned pregnancy is
feared more than HIV/AIDS among young people,” comments Nthazie Nalungwe, a
striking young woman leader within Youth Vision Zambia, a sexual
and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) advocacy group here in Lusaka. This
comment is reflected among many young Zambian advocates, peer educators and
health workers we’ve talked with, including those with organizations promoting
abstinence-only. Perhaps it’s a good
thing that condoms seem far more plentiful than other contraceptives in Zambia:
dual protection by default.

zambia1.jpg

One bright morning we
drive with Youth Vision colleagues to the town of Kafue, about 45 minutes east of
Lusaka, where major textile and chemical factories closed years ago. Unemployment is staggeringly high and, given
the main trucking route slicing through Kafue’s neighborhoods, commercial sex
is common – as is gender-based violence.

We’re meeting with
community-based peer educators of the “Love Support” HIV prevention outreach
program that Youth Vision runs with support from RFSU, the Swedish Association for Sexuality
Education
. As our group walks around
the troubled community, we pass several “pubs” blaring music so loud the
distortion hurts. Handmade banners that advertise
traditional healers, one with a bizarre illustration of a couple inside a
cauldron over an open fire, are prominent.

Zambia2.jpg

I’m walking with Emily, a
friendly peer educator in her late teens or early 20’s, who tells me there are
far more pubs than schools. Young men
linger about, some with drinks in hand, others playing on foosball
machines. We duck inside to see the
“love jars” stocked with condoms, though at this time of day (mid-morning) they
are empty and will be replenished in the afternoon in time for “rush hour” at
the pubs. The peer educators report that
demand for condoms is high.

“Once you graduate from
school, you’ve no job prospects and nothing to do. To survive, many young girls turn to selling
sex with truckers and men in the community,” Emily recounts. I ask her about her friends’ experiences,
whether sexual violence, unplanned pregnancy and unsafe abortion are common
occurrences within her circle. “Oh yes,”
she says and proceeds to tell me of her 20-year old friend’s funeral just last
week who died from an unsafe abortion. “We need more contraceptives, more respect between women and men, and
good jobs after we graduate,” Emily continues. “Then my friends and I can have
a better life.”

Check back tomorrow to
read about our clinic visits in Zambia!

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