February 14 is here. It is called the season of love where we are to care for people and show greater affection to our loved ones, the needy and to the vulnerable. In some quarters, it is a period of rendering sexual services, giving sexual compensations, and negotiating livelihoods with sex. Many of these sexual exchanges are executed without recourse to safety precautions. Adolescents in Nigeria are in this category of sexual experimenters. Hip-Hop musicians, who are mostly youths, are not helping matters as their lyrics carry sexually explicit messages with implication for risky sexual behaviours. In Nigeria, high proportions of adolescents do not have stable relationships, are sexually active, and are often ignorant of the health risks of their behaviour. Worldwide Nigeria is second in the number of new infections and 10percent of the global population of living with HIV are in Nigeria. Research indicates that adolescents initiate sex early in Nigeria with higher risks of STIs and HIV/AIDS. This implies that appropriate education is needed to inculcate desired social behaviour and lifestyle among young Nigerians and reduce rates of illness and death. This is because sexual and reproductive health of young people in Nigeria is dismal. Young persons have poor access to relevant information and services which has led to widespread early sexual initiation, teenage pregnancy, unsafe abortion, drug abuse and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV/AIDS. Demographers and sociologists have shown concern about the influence of peers and sexual exploitation of adolescent by adults. This is possible with cases of rape and defilement reported in the media. Nigeria has more to gain if it can invest more in sexuality education among its adolescents and eradicate communication barriers that often impede this. More needs to be done to in the area of teaching Nigerian adolescents sexuality education with family as a vital agent in executing this.
Realising that schools and educational system offer the best possibility of reaching large number of young people with essential knowledge, skills and values that will stay with them through lives, the Family Life and HIV/AIDS Education (FLHE) program was introduced into school curricula in Nigeria at the basic and secondary levels and teacher training institutions. The goal of the FLHE was to prevent HIV/AIDS through awareness and education. The goal of FLHE is assist adolescent in developing a positive and factual view of themselves; acquire the information and health care skills to prevent HIV infection; respect themselves and value others; learn to make healthy decisions about their sexual and health behaviours; provide the information and skills necessary for rational decision-making about sexual health and to prevent the occurrence and spread of HIV/AIDS. To what extent have these goals been achieved? The findings of a study by the Ibadan Social and Evaluation Research Team (ISERT) funded by Ford Foundation are vital to this behaviour modification. The study which was carried out nationwide among in-school and out-of-school adolescents, evaluated the implementation of sexuality and life skills education in Nigeria. What comes out clear is that while most northern states have implemented the program at the senior secondary classes, most southern states have implemented it in both junior and senior secondary classes. States like Adamawa, Taraba, Benue, and Gombe had low implementation while Lagos, Kebbi, Jigawa and Enugu states had high implementation levels. In some states, availability of teachers, time, space or accommodation as well as the age and socio-cultural considerations affected the mode of implementation rather than the curriculum guidelines. The south-south and southwest ranked highest in having positive effects on students. The National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) was identified as having organisational instruction of the materials for students. Sex had impact on what was taught as most students felt that teachers of same sex would produce greater effects when dealing with the content. Lack of relevant FLHE materials in most schools have implications for FLHE quality. There is a gap between schools and state ministries in terms of data retrieval and management. Out of school children were mainly reached by Non-government organisations who performed sensitization outreach, counselling, blood testing, supplying condoms and HIV test kits.
The Family Life and HIV/AIDS Education program has challenges in the area of government support as most states do not have budget line for FLHE. Allocations go through state ministries which then assign a miniscule sum to FLHE activities. There is also delay in accessing the funds forcing many states to depend on donors for funding. Some barriers to the implementation included lack of supply of teaching materials while many teachers especially from the northern part of Nigeria experienced problems in relation to inadequate knowledge of English language terms for some Family life and HIV/AIDS concepts and students shyness in discussing some items. Low political commitment, slow bureaucracy, cultural and religious impediments, labour shortage, lack of incentives for teachers and parents, communication gap between funders and implementing schools and environmental constraints. In some states, cultural and religious considerations remain a major difficulty. There is no doubt that much needs to be done to ensure effective and life skills education program in Nigeria. To this end, there is need for increased budgetary allocation for HIV/AIDS education and prompt release of funds. For Family life and HIV/AIDS education implementation to be scaled up, there is need to train more teachers, engage in more advocacy, media involvement and parental engagement. There must also be teaching of FLHE in both junior and secondary schools, creation of handbook on FLHE for teachers. While government must ensure funding of programs geared towards orienting adolescents towards positive sexual behaviours for a secured future, the fact that many young people are still out there without been taught the family life and HIV/AIDS education portends danger as such adolescents remain vulnerable to coercion, abuse and sex exploitation leading to unintended pregnancy, STIs including HIV. Obviously the Family Life and HIV/AIDS program has had positive effects in the lives of adolescents who had come into contact with it, there is therefore the need for more government funding to expand the scope to those yet to be captured to check adolescent risky sexual behaviours during valentine and beyond it with a view to averting future health crisis.
Dr Oludayo Tade, a media consultant wrote through email@example.com