“I am 18 years old, and I am already thinking about getting married. In our area, girls get married early. I’m afraid that with my positive HIV status I won't be able to find a boyfriend, which means I won’t have a family,” said Sayora Akmatova (not her real name), a participant of a training on sexuality education for adolescents living with HIV, held in Osh, Kyrgyzstan.
More than 60 young people living with HIV and their parents from different regions of Kyrgyzstan recently participated in a series of trainings for adolescents and young people living with HIV on sexuality education, reproductive health and prevention of violence conducted by Araket Plus and the Reproductive Health Alliance Kyrgyzstan.
“Adolescents and young people living with HIV are exposed to various types of violence, so there is a need to integrate HIV prevention and treatment programmes with programmes on sexuality education, reproductive health and gender equality. Through such courses we wanted to ensure that teenagers living with HIV received a comprehensive training package, including leadership skills, how to identify and address violence and how to overcome self-stigma,” said Meerim Sarybaeva, the UNAIDS Country Director for Kyrgyzstan.
During the parallel training for parents of adolescents living with HIV, issues such as psychological challenges and personal boundaries, the importance of interpersonal communication and the need to communicate difficult and sensitive topics with children, such as contraception, condom use and sexually transmitted infections, were discussed.
Uluk Batyrgaliev, a sexual and reproductive health trainer at the Reproductive Health Alliance Kyrgyzstan worked with a group of parents and talked about how the fears of parents of children living with HIV are most often associated with their future.
“I was surprised to hear those parents of HIV-positive children agree in advance between themselves to marry their children to each other, so not to infect the “clean”,” said Mr Batyrgaliev. “The word “clean” is used by the parents to describe people who are HIV-negative. This is incredibly self-stigmatizing.”
Galina Chirkina, the Executive Director of the Reproductive Health Alliance Kyrgyzstan, emphasized that the relationship between sexual and reproductive health problems and HIV is evident to professionals but is not always apparent to others or adolescents living with HIV.
“We teach young people living with HIV to have a common understanding of how they can have a successful sexual life, and how they can plan their future and family. Realizing the right to reproductive health and the future starts with sexual education.”
The education system in Kyrgyzstan doesn’t include sexuality education courses for young people in schools. However, as optional courses, teachers can choose healthy lifestyle courses that include special sexuality education lessons for high school students. A healthy lifestyle curriculum was developed in 2014 with United Nations system support in Kyrgyzstan and was recommended for all schools in the country.
The trainings were organized within the regional cooperation programme on infectious diseases, implemented by the UNAIDS Country Office for Kyrgyzstan and funded by the Government of the Russian Federation.