The HIV and AIDS peer communication strategy implemented in the Young Ambassadors for positive living (YAPL) in Africa has equipped school going boys and girls with appropriate information and skills to make right decisions to address HIV and AIDS challenges among young people and the communities they live in. The YAPL programmes’ aim is to enable young women and men living with the HIV/AIDS virus to share personal experiences with their peers. This raises awareness about HIV/AIDS through the promotion of dialogue between young people living with the virus, local communities, NGO’s and governments.
In the Kingdom of Swaziland, through the support of the Secretary-General’s Special fund for HIV and AIDS, the YAPL programme has trained 32 young men and women as peer educators and placed them in 16 schools across the country. The 6 months pilot phase of the programme has enabled YAPL’s make direct contact with at least 4,800 young people in schools. The project managed by the Ministry of Sport, Culture and Youth Affairs has been implemented by the Swaziland National Youth Council.
From inception, the project has involved young people throughout its implementation, that is, in-school youth, out of school youth as well as service providers. Consultation workshops were held by representatives from the 55 constituencies across the country mainly out of school youth. This group provided a rich and informed experience from their perspective on how the project should be rolled out. Involving young people in the process and getting their buy in was vital. Significant youth friendly approaches to facilitating behavior change among young people were important contributions made by the youth; criteria for participating schools was also endorsed by young people. The youth committee also provided in the development of the criteria for selection and recruitment of the peer educators.
Swaziland, a landlocked country of 17,364 sq km bordered by the Republic of South Africa and Mozambique is one of the countries worst affected by the HIV epidemic in the world. Since 1992, the government has been conducting antenatal clinic (ANC) sentinel surveillance, the prevalence of HIV increased from 3.9% to a high of 42.6% in 2004. In 2006, ANC based prevalence estimates showed a decline to 39.2%, in 2008 it came to a steady 42%. Most affected by HIV are pregnant women aged 20 – 29 years, with HIV prevalence of 56.3% in 2004 and 48.9% in 2006, followed by those aged 30 – 34 with prevalence of 41% in 2004 and 48.9% in 2006. In 2006-7 the country conducted its first Demographic and Health Survey (DHS), including HIV testing at national level. The preliminary results confirmed that Swaziland was in an HIV crisis
The impact assessment report of the pilot phase indicated that the project was the first of its kind whereby students were acquiring knowledge, skills and attitude on HIV and AIDS prevention directly from peers. The findings observed that teachers, career guidance teachers, parents and the communities at large benefitted from the project. Their experiences have guided the up-scaling planning process.
The Ministry of Sport, Culture and Youth Affairs and a cross section of stakeholders/partners seek to upscale the YAP project from the initial 16 schools to 55 as well as reach 27,000 young people in the next 3 years. Commonwealth Youth Programme Regional Centre Africa has continued to provide both technical and financial assistance to the Kingdom of Swaziland in its endeavours to empower young people to lead in addressing the HIV and AIDS challenge in the country.
Adaptations of the Swaziland project are being implemented in Lesotho, Uganda and Zambia.