Utilisation of voluntary counselling and testing services by the youth aged between 18 and 24 years in institutions of higher learning in Lusaka, Zambia

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Chishimba, Sarah Shawa
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The advent of the HIV/AIDS pandemic has raised important questions for policy makers, practitioners and researchers on finding appropriate strategies to mitigate its impact on society, particularly on the youth, who form a very important potential resource for future development. It has long been identified that behaviour change, especially among the youth, is critical in reducing the transmission of HIV. In recent years, Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) has emerged as an important tool in bringing about behaviour change. Studies show that VCT is a cost-effective intervention in preventing HIV transmission, and that it gives seropositive people earlier access to medical care and preventive therapies among other benefits. Despite the widespread recognition of VCT as an effective strategy for reducing HIV sexually risky behaviour, there is limited information about the impact of VCT on young people, or its effectiveness in assisting the youth to change their behaviour. There is also limited information about the accessibility of VCT services to the youth, how young people who test seropositive cope, who they share their test results with, and who provides;emotional support to them after they have undertaken the test.This study intended to explore the effectiveness of VCT in changing the sexual behaviour of th<^ youth by examining their attitudes about VCT and VCT services currently being pVovided. The primary objective of the study was to establish the level of awareness among the youth about VCT. Specifically, the study sought to determine the utilisation of VCT services currently being provided, and to determine whether VCT services are readily accessible to the youth within their immediate vicinity. The study also sought to establish whom the youth in institutions of higher learning share their test results with when they use VCT services, and to ascertain the general perception of the youth towards VCT services. The study was based on a sample of 320 youth in three institutions of higher learning in Lusaka, namely University of Zambia, Evelyn Hone College of Applied Arts and Commerce, and Chainama College of Health Sciences. The study used a combination of a structured survey questiormaire and focus group discussions. Literature reviewed was based on contemporary thinking among researchers and practitioners on VCT, and the existing studies on the general impact of VCT.The study found a very high level of awareness about VCT services among the target group.90.3 percent of the youth covered by the study were not only aware about what VCT was, but they were able to identify a VCT centre nearest to them. However, despite this awareness, utilisation of VCT services was much lower than the level of awareness exhibited. It was found that only 22.4 percent of the respondents had visited a VCT Centre, and only 16.3 percent of the entire population covered by this study had actually undertaken an HIV test.As regards accessibihty, this study found that VCT services were readily accessible to the youth in institutions of higher learning, as 92.8 percent of the respondents knew where the centres were. However, there were other factors that inhibited the youth from effectively utilising VCT services. Some factors mentioned by respondents included the location of VCT centres, and the perception by some respondents that VCT is only supposed to be for those involved in high risk sexual behaviour. Furthermore, this study found that the youth were largely unwilling to share test results after utilising VCT services/ Of the respondents that had undertaken an HIV test, 64 percent indicated that they/were not willing to share their test results. On the other hand, the remaining 36 percent who were willing to share their test results indicated that they would rather shared them with family members.Finally, this study found that the perception of the youth in institutions of higher learning towards VCT was largely positive with 77.1 percent responding that VCT was a good concept. However, most respondents felt that the focus by providers was too narrow, as it focused on VCT as an end in itself
HIV/AIDS -- Zambia , Counselling