YAOUNDE, Nov. 29 (Xinhua) -- Three quarters of women affected by HIV/AIDS in Cameroon are between 19 and 24, three times more than the affected men of the same bracket, the Ministry of Public Health reported on Saturday.
The figures were released as the central African country marked the World AIDS Day, when people working to control the deadly disease in Cameroon deplored the high rate, linking it to the poor economic and socio-cultural plight.
"Essential information on the methods of prevention of HIV/AIDS has not yet sufficiently reached the girls of this age bracket, " said Nestor Ankiba, executive director of Cameroon's Association of Social Marketing (ACMS), a non-profit making organization which facilitates access to health information by the Cameroonian population.
"It's an age group which is more or less naive, the majority of the girls at this age do not even know what they are doing," he added.
The economic dependence of the girls at this age vis-a-vis their families which are not always rich is the origin of this high rate of contamination, according to the ACMS director.
A study conducted by his organization shows that the majority of their sexual partners are men who are older and have more money than the boys at their age.
In order to call for responsibility from the older people and attract the attention of the young girls on the dangers of inter-generational sexual relations, the ACMS launched in August 2008 a sensitization campaign titled "No to Sponsors, No to HIV/AIDS".
"Multiplication of several sexual partners by these young girls is certainly the main cause of contamination," said Arsene Onana Ndougsa, a peer educator at African Synergies against AIDS and suffering, an NGO headed by Cameroon's First Lady Chantal Biya.
In their multiple foray on the ground to interact with the youth, said Nadia Zibi Effa, another peer educator, the young men are more motivated to know the prevention methods and ways of contamination than the young girls.
Out of 35,780 young people tested voluntarily in August 2009 during the operation "Holidays without AIDS" organized since 2003 by African Synergies, 22,500 were boys and 13,280 were girls.
In the eyes of Zibi Effa, the fear of knowing their status explains the refusal by girls to get tested.
Antoine Socpa, an anthropologist and teacher at the University of Yaounde 1, has published a number of articles on the relationship between poverty and contamination of HIV. Other cultural factors like early marriage, female genital mutilation, scarification of the body by stained objects contribute to the contamination by the virus, he said.
Investigations carried out in northern regions of Cameroon where the practice of excision of young girls still goes on, he said, revealed a high rate of prevalence among girls because the objects used by the women are always stained by blood.
According to him, the sensitization that has cost billions of dollars against AIDS has had limitations since it has not helped in addressing some of the cultural aspects of some ethnic groups on the African continent.
As a solution, Socpa asked international organizations involved in the fight against AIDS and African leaders to identify the factors that push the girls to get involved in risky activities regardless of the deadly consequences.
Preservatives may not be the only solution to this problem if the conditions of life of these people do not change.
With a prevalence rate of 5.1 percent, which includes 6.8 percent of women and 4.1 percent of men, 553,000 people are living with HIV in Cameroon, where the first case was reported in 1985. The rate is 9.9 percent in the country's young population.
The central region of the country is the worst hit with 111,287sick people, who account for 47 percent of the total. In the north, 17,418 seropositives were reported, or 15 percent of the total.
The Cameroonian government on May 1, 2007 decided to provide the free antiretroviral treatment for the people living with HIV. There are now 136 health training centers across the country to take care of the patients.
The promotion of usage of preservatives for women is at the center of activities marking the World AIDS Day in Cameroon, which is marked under the theme "I am taking issues in my hands, stop AIDS, keep the promise, women and children without HIV."
The objective, according to health officials, is that each woman should decide for her own health and participate in the prevention of unwanted pregnancies and contribute to the reduction of new infections in Cameroon.
Voluntary testing, conferences, debates and distribution of feminine and masculine preservatives are part of the activities of the national health week launched on Wednesday in the capital Yaounde.