In the world of sex ed, peer education is on the rise. Especially in terms of HIV, peer education has been used in various groups around the world as a public health intervention. While it is receiving more attention in the US, I saw this in action at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, in an area where HIV rates are up to 15%.
Students there volunteer as peer educators, making rounds to the residence halls as well as to community events and a nearby prison. During these events they play a warm-up game and start with a presentation or video. Then they begin asking questions of the participants. At first, the room is quiet. People are shy. However, a few brave souls speak up, and before you know it everyone in the room is on the edge of his or her seat waiting to talk, eager to share opinions about sexual health practices today at their university and in their communities. And when it starts rolling, topics get juicy.
Sexual Health. Two words that conjure up images of a gym teacher in front of a blackboard, rows of foil wrapped condoms, and PSAs about preventing HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Are all of those visions included in the world of sexual health? Sure. But there’s a lot more to it; I’ve spent my life (or at least the majority of it) getting people to not only broaden their definition of sexual health, but to understand that sexual health is part of their overall health. It’s hard to have one without the other. So why do this again now? It’s not as if we haven’t heard this before.
The XIX International AIDS conference was recently held in Washington, D.C. It had been 22 years since the International AIDS conference was held in the United States (mainly due to the unwillingness on the part of the United States to grant visas for HIV-infected individuals–only recently lifted).
Here 25,000 scientists, policy makers, health and education ministry officials, advocates, and activists from around the world were gathered with a renewed determination to stem the tide of this epidemic. Medical advances, improved access to care, prevention initiatives, and revived determination were all good signs, but as a global culture we will need to shift our perspective to stop the spread of HIV.