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New Vision
Uganda: Social Media Fuelling Uganda's HIV/Aids Prevalence
<p>Opinion</p><p>&nbsp;</p>
November 24, 2012

Until World Aids Day on December 1, New Vision will publish HIV-related stories daily. Today, George Wabweyo explores how the media is fuelling reckless sex and the spread of HIV

Scary! There is this group on Facebook. It is called No Strings Attached (NSA) Sex Uganda. A look at this group's header sends shockwaves down your spine.

Here is how it reads: "Hey! Live in Kampala or its surroundings? Why not meet like-minded people and arrange some NSA fun? Add your e-mail address below and get it on."

It has 284 members and some of its members' explicit requests and posts arouse pity. It is not the only Ugandan Facebook group dedicated to sex.

Several other groups have suggestive and lewd names and have several members. There is even a mobile sex worker page. The list of these groups and pages is endless, and someone needs to report them so they are brought down.

These pages are a stark testimony of how the booming social media use in Uganda, especially Facebook, is fuelling a dangerous sexual revolution among the youth.

Unfortunately, the internet is an uncontrollable monster and even though Facebook and other social networks have a strict policy against lewd content, pornography and sexual content is still posted unabated. Because of social networks, more youth are so exposed to lots of sex, more so unprotected sex!

That aside, to the individual, Facebook has broken the boundaries of traditional relationships. It is slowly becoming acceptable for people to share everything with strangers online and feel like they know them very well when they finally do get to meet.

"Facebook makes one believe that they've known the other person for a longtime. It gives you an insight in their day-to-day lives and since you chat before actual meeting, there is a sense of trust and emotional bond you build between yourselves," says Joy Tushabe, a third-year Makerere University student.

Indeed, a new relationship on Facebook starts as easily as sending a friend request and enables one to communicate swiftly and with little limitations or hurdles that physical encounters may present, so by the time you meet, you have already by-passed the hard bits.

Youth, who make the biggest population of Ugandans on social media, are increasingly using the above mentioned pages and groups to recruit sexual partners, a move that ought to be stopped, but how?

"I know a groupie friend of mine who gets sexual partners from Facebook. She looks for hot celebrities and hooks up with them for sex," Pam, a student and frequent Facebook user, says.

For his part, James had this to say: "I have hooked up with six random girls on Facebook. The fact is Facebook is facilitating sex. It has made it a bit of a smooth sail," he confesses.

Kahuma, a recent graduate who also prefers anonymity because of the gravity of the matter, admits to recruiting a few sexual partners from social networks. "Yes, I have hooked up with someone on Facebook, but it was just for chao (Kampala slang for sex). It never was anything serious," he says.

According to a recent study by Columbia University sociology Prof. SudhirVenkatesh, 83% of prostitutes in the United States have Facebook accounts and get 25% of their regular clientele from the social site.

There might not be such statistics from Uganda to crunch at the moment, but it is a safe bet that Facebook being a trendsetter among Ugandan youth today, we are not far back. The increasing number of Ugandan-administered Facebook pages, accounts and groups dedicated to promiscuous and irresponsible behaviour bare testament to what is soon to come.

The fact is that there is a seemingly explicit and obsessive sex culture being groomed on social networks, which further worsens the HIV/AIDS situation.

There is no conclusive social media policy in Uganda and people are taking advantage of this. A two-minute browse of an average Facebook wall will be an encounter with suggestive posts, adult content and x-rated photos. Unfortunately, there is no one to prefect that and all these "new" ideas are being totted around to web-savvy teenagers.

This is all in the wake of a recently released troubling HIV/AIDS report titled The Change We Need to End AIDS in Uganda. The report, developed by a collective of Ugandan civil societies, asserts that new infections are on the rise in Uganda.

Specifically, the HIV prevalence rate in the country has upped to 7.3% now, from the 6.3% at which it was in 2006. Sexual transmission continues to contribute highly towards new HIV infections in Uganda.

A 2011 United Nations report asserted that up to 2,500 young people are infected anew with HIV annually. Moreover, the AIDS Information Centre recently stated that the annual new HIV infection rates would soon hit 150,000 per annum if no interventions are put in place.

To buffer that, the 2011 Uganda AIDS Indicator Survey suggests that a of 3.7% of women and men aged 15 to 24 are HIV-positive.

There seems to be a higher prevalence in women than it is with men. Just like the HIV/AIDS prevalence has gone up, so has the proliferation of social media in Uganda over the last five years. If you do the maths, you will know how much this country needs prayer.

It is getting worse, especially since almost every student at the level of Senior One upwards seems to have a Facebook account. Eventually, someone introduces them to these pages, or chats with them suggestively and ultimately, they are recruited. We need help!



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