In rural Zambia, a lack of information and patchy health services has led to teen pregnancies, child marriages and growing levels of violence against adolescent girls and young women, so increasing HIV infection and school dropout rates. In many communities, only a small percentage of adolescents living with HIV are on treatment and adherence for those on treatment is inconsistent. Evidence suggests that comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information, as well as stigma and discrimination-free services significantly improve adolescent and young people’s uptake of HIV prevention and care services.

SAT partner, Pride Community Health Organization, conducted Dialogue for Health sessions with traditional and religious leaders in the Magoba, Chikupi and Chanyanya communities. Engaging traditional leaders in interventions helps to eradicate misconceptions and harmful cultural practices. The organization also partnered and collaborated with local health facilities, government schools, and community leaders to create awareness amongst parents and caregivers about the benefits of early HIV testing for the young people in their care.

Community member, Samson Banda, recounts how he was saved from STIs by a local headman:

“I remember the day I got myself into substance abuse and unprotected sex vividly. I grew up in Chikupi area from a family of eight children. My parents worked hard to raise us despite being financially unstable giving us at least a meal a day. Unfortunately, my father passed away when I was twelve and my mother continued raising us as a single parent. I dropped out to allow my siblings have a better chance of staying in school and fell into a bad crowd.”

“I would spend most of my time in taverns and bars. I became so absorbed in this lifestyle that I did not see or realize what was happening to me. My wakeup call came when I contracted a sexually transmitted infection (STI). My usual gang did not bother to come and visit me or wish me well. Our neighbour, who is a headman, encouraged me to go for treatment and attend a youth-friendly program. I wondered how he was so friendly to me. He explained to me about the youth friendly space and their activities. He encouraged me to attend their meetings and access treatment.

“I went to the clinic with him, after that he kept on encouraging me to be attending meetings at the youth-friendly space. The topic of discussion at the meeting was STIs but they also talked about how a person under the influence of alcohol was more at risk to contract an STI and this opened my mind to a whole new way of thinking as I reflected on my blacked out days.”

“This association at the youth-friendly space changed me and I was encouraged to enroll back into school which I did.”

“My mother and siblings are all proud of me and I can see my siblings trying to be more like me as they also now attend the meeting at the space with me. I appreciate what this headman did for me and through what I learn from the Chikupi Youth friendly Space, I share with other youths at my school and in my community as I believe everyone needs to be well informed to make better choices.”