XVIII International AIDS Conference


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STD/HIV/AIDS related knowledge, attitudes and practices among schoolchildren aged 9-12, Panama, 2005

L. Marchena1, E. Berrios2, D. Gutierrez3, P. Arroyo4, Y. Rodriguez4, L. Rivera3, D. Avila1, E. Lee1, R. Correa1, B. Armien1, STD/HIV/AIDS Children Study Group

1Gorgas Memorial Institute for Health Studies, Panama, Panama, 2United Nations Population Fund, Panama, Panama, 3Ministry of Education, Panama, Panama, 4Ministry of Health, Panama, Panama

Background: Panama occupies the third position among Central American countries with high HIV prevalence. Age distribution shows that it affects sexually active working-age population, especially aged 24-34. Findings suggest that virus acquisition prevails among adolescents. Since children aged 10-14 are largely not sexually active, but still vulnerable in the following years, they represent a critical group to limit the epidemic. The objective was to describe STD/HIV/AIDS related knowledge, attitudes and practices (KAPs) among schoolchildren aged 9-12 in Panama.
Methods: A cross-sectional study was conducted in 25 public schools selected by convenience in 2005. 1296 students aged 8-15 completed a questionnaire regarding demographic, family and social relationships data and STD/HIV/AIDS KAPs. Results were analyzed by frequency and compared to show possible associations. A knowledge score was built to assess levels of awareness and attitudes for STD/HIV/AIDS issues.
Results: The mean age was 10.2 years and the male to female ratio was 1.1:1. Older children reported curiosity as the main reason for engaging in early sexual activity. Family was reported as an important source of information for sexual education, followed by teachers. 13.3% declared a sexual experience of some sort; their mean age was 10.1 years, predominantly males (80.2%). Identifiable risk factors were the presence of a sentimental partner and the preference to discuss sexual issues with a person other than the mother (p< 0.0021). Only 29% of them had a knowledge score of good-excellent, as opposed to 46.1% among those not sexually active (OR=0.49, 95% CI=0.34-0.71).
Conclusions: A significant amount of children were engaged in early sexual activity with poorer levels of STD/HIV/AIDS-related knowledge compared to their non-sexually active peers. Public policies should enforce STD/HIV/AIDS prevention programs in elementary schools by encouraging teachers, parents and peers participation.

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