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Aims: Young people especially in sub-Saharan Africa are at great risk of contracting HIV. Studies have shown that young people aged 15–24 account for an estimated 45% of new HIV infections worldwide while less than half could demonstrate accurate and comprehensive knowledge about HIV/AIDS. Similarly they lack access to appropriate reproductive health information and treatment.
This study aimed to identify the beliefs, values and attitudes of the youths and gatekeepers in the community to STIs including HIV/AIDS and socio-economic factors promoting their spread.
Place and Duration of Study: This study was carried out in Bayelsa State between January and April 2007.
Methodology: Four focus group discussions among youths and five in-depth interviews among opinion leaders were conducted in a rural and urban area of Bayelsa state. The participants were homogenous groups in terms of age and sex and comprised of an average of ten youths per group Opinion leaders were made up of media practitioners, youth leaders and religious leaders of both sexes.
Results: The FGD revealed that youths in both the urban and rural areas had limited access to reproductive health information, contraceptive advice and treatment. This resulted in wide spread use of herbal medicine and high doses of quinine among youths as contraceptives with an early age of sexual debut. Cost of procuring an abortion varied from 17 to 25 USD. Socio-cultural and economic factors contributing to the spread of HIV/AIDS among youths identified by opinion leaders were deterioration of traditional social discipline and norms of behavior, multiple sexual partners, poverty, non-acceptance by religious groups of all proven HIV preventive methods such as condom use among youths, and on-going harmful cultural practices such as female genital mutilation and socio-cultural events such as 'owigiri night'.
Conclusion: There is a need for health programmes and mass media interventions that will improves access to reproductive health information and services, among youths in this region so as to help check the spread of STIs.