Africa: Miseducation of Sexually Active Varsity Students. 26/4/10
Majority of university students are sexually active but less than half of them use condoms for protection against HIV/Aids infection
Nairobi — The majority of university students are sexually active but less than half of them use condoms for protection against HIV/Aids infection, a new study says.
It puts the figures at 70 per cent sexually active students, out of whom only 45 per cent use condoms.The study was conducted by I Choose Life organisation, in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAid).
It indicated that 35 per cent of male and about 20 per cent of female students had between two and five sexual partners.
The findings, released last week, also noted that a third of the students were unlikely to abstain from sex in the next three months.
About 40 per cent of sexually active students do not know their HIV status, the study said. It indicated that the rate of infection is highest in the 15-24 year age group to which most of the students belong.
Maina Kiranga, the head of youth affairs at USAid, said 50 per cent of all new HIV infections are in the 15-24 year age group.
The research was carried out on a sample of 1,300 students from the University of Nairobi and the United States International University. It projected similar trends and student behaviour in all tertiary institutions in Kenya. This calls for rapid implementation of ABC [Abstaining, Being faithful to one partner and use of Condoms] to prevent HIV infection and unintended pregnancies.
Mike Mutungi, the director of I Choose Life, said first year female students were the most vulnerable to sexual exploitation by male students at higher levels. "We found out that about half of the girls are virgins at the time of admission to the university," says Mr Mutunga, adding that the figure dropped to below 35 per cent by the time the girls were in second year.
Relationship experts say the freedom that comes with university life is to blame for unprotected sex on campus. "The students tend to explore needlessly" says Gertrude Mungai, a sexologist.
"At their age, they are not ready psychologically for sex and can hardly sustain good romantic relationships." A bachelor of commerce student at the University of Nairobi, said sex boosts his ego and confidence.
"I should live life to the fullest and exploit this opportunity I have on campus," he said, adding that he uses condoms all the time.
He spoke of a prevalent syndrome dubbed "sexually transmitted degrees (STD)" where lectures award marks to female students for sexual favours granted.
Substance abuse was also blamed for the students' erratic sexual behaviour, with 42 per cent admitting to misuse of alcohol and other intoxicants.
A third of the students said they were unlikely to abstain from sex in the next three months. A communications student who vowed to abstain, said it was an uphill task.
"Friends shun you if you don't have a sexual partner," she said.
The research also found that most female students were more afraid of getting pregnant than of being infected with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Of the girls polled, 45 per cent said they were likely to use condoms to prevent pregnancy, against 35 per cent who would use condoms to protect themselves against sexually transmitted diseases.
It was also noted that many students engaged in romantic relationships outside campus.
Pascal Wambua, the lead researcher, said: "It is common to see female students with sexual partners on campus and outside." He added that sexual relationships between students and lecturers were also common.
Charles Wachichi, a HIV specialist, said only sex education can curb the risky behaviour. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health and the Commission for Higher Education are working with I Choose Life in a programme to train about 4,000 HIV peer educators.
Most universities, including Nairobi, have compulsory HIV courses. They also have free condom dispensers at strategic points.