News Article07/09/2011

Education key to sexual health for young people in Sierra Leone

handing out condoms in Sierra Leone

Freetown, 7th September 2011: When Sierra Leonean TV journalist Vickie Remoe hit the streets and beaches of Freetown to ask young women and men what they thought about condoms – and more importantly whether they used them – she got some pretty concerning responses.

“I’ve not tried them … but I know I don’t like them.”

“I’ll start using them … but only when I get sick.”

“I’m scared of them … people say they get stuck inside you.”

“If I get sick [contract HIV] I’ll just get cured.”

Almost every young person she quizzed had serious misconceptions about condoms and diseases such as HIV/AIDs. Some knew that not using condoms increased their risk of sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancy; this knowledge just took a poor second place to received wisdom from the street.

More awareness needed

Vickie’s vox pops suggest that these misconceptions often translate into risky sexual behaviour. The World Health Organisation confirms this: only 6% of the 2.6 million-strong female population in Sierra Leone were using modern contraceptive methods in 2008. Only one in ten women aged 15–24 used a condom the last time they had high-risk sex between 2005 and 2009, and one in two men.

Pregnancy rates and HIV incidence amongst young women are correspondingly high in Sierra Leone, a country struggling to recover from civil war and ranked amongst the least developed in the world.

In 2008, 146 women aged 15–24 in every thousand gave birth in Sierra Leone, compared to 41 per thousand in the US. Although HIV is less pervasive in Sierra Leone than the rest of Africa, it’s still a world away from the incidence rates seen in developed countries. UNAIDs estimates that up to 2.5 % of women aged 15–24 in Sierra Leone were living with HIV in 2010, more than twelve times the UK and US prevalence.

Education is key

Vickie thinks that ongoing educational campaigns are a must in Sierra Leone, to make sure every young person has accurate information about contraception, and how it decreases the risk of STIs and unplanned pregnancy.

Sebastien Barraud, Marie Stopes Sierra Leone Country Director agrees: “Accurate information and high quality services are crucial. We provide 44% of all contraception in Sierra Leone, disseminated from 700 distribution points including our 12 centres and eight outreach teams. Our innovations in the country include the introduction of long-term and emergency contraception, and behavioural change campaigns which have significantly increased their uptake.”

In 2009 50% (100,000) of our clients in Sierra Leone were under 25 years old. Hopefully some of the young people Vickie Remoe interviewed will join their number soon.

Find out more about our work in Sierra Leone

Watch Vickie's video on the Make Women Matter website


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