Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Risk Taking and Hiv/aids among Young People in Cameroon: Prediction of Vulnerability Using the Adolescent Risk-Taking Questionnaire

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Risk Taking and Hiv/aids among Young People in Cameroon: Prediction of Vulnerability Using the Adolescent Risk-Taking Questionnaire

Article excerpt

The aim of this study was to assess the reliability and validity of the Adolescent Risk-Taking Questionnaires (ARQ) (Gullone, Moore, Moss, & Boyd, 2000) with Cameroon adolescents, and to evaluate the measure as a screening device for those at risk of HIV/AIDS. Participants were 234 adolescents (79 boys, 155 girls) attending schools in Cameroon (mean age 13.6 years). The ARQ scale items, minus the thrill-seeking items (assessed as culturally inappropriate), formed conceptually meaningful factors. Risk behavior and risk belief subscales showed evidence of reliability and validity. The scale items successfully discriminated between HIV positive and HIV negative boys (but not girls). Further work is necessary on both the cultural sensitivity of the scales and issues of social desirability.

Keywords: Cameroon, HIV/AIDS, adolescence, risk taking, Adolescent Risk-taking Questionnaire.

HIV/AIDS is a serious health problem in Cameroon. The estimated number of adults and children living with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2001 was 920,000 in a country with a population of approximately 15 million (UNAIDS/WHO, 2002). In 2001 alone, it was estimated that 53,000 people died of AIDS in Cameroon, and 210,000 children had been orphaned by the disease at the end of that year (UNAIDS/WHO, 2002). The high prevalence rate reported among young people (15 to 29 years of age) is associated with early sexual intercourse (median age at first intercourse is 16 years for boys and 17 years for girls), educational factors and poverty (Dallal et al., 2003). Importantly, reported condom use with nonregular partners is extremely low (6.6%), and rates of casual sex quite high, with 29% of males admitting to nonregular sexual partnerships over a 12-month period (JAAIDS, 2003). The seriousness of the situation is complicated by denial as to the existence of the disease in many areas, enormous stigma associated with infection and limited resources to deal with the social consequences of the disease, which is rapidly destroying the infrastructure of society (Dallal et al., 2003).

Eaton, Flisher, and Aaro (2003), in summarizing research on unsafe sexual behavior in South Africa, have noted that Sub-Saharan Africa has the world's highest HIV infection rates. They associated these high rates with extreme poverty - which is in turn linked to high levels of adolescent sexual activity early sexual debut, less knowledge about HIV/AIDS, greater commodification of sex, and higher degrees of physical abuse and sexual coercion within relationships, including more rape. They cited a South African study of high school pupils in which adolescents with lower socioeconomic status experienced eight times as much physical abuse and four times as much attempted and actual rape within relationships as did adolescents with high socioeconomic status (Wood & Jewkes, 1997). In this study, around half the young people surveyed attributed rape or sexual harassment to love of one's partner, that is, sexual domination was justified as a sign of love and passion. Eaton et al. also have argued, quoting several studies, that within poorer African communities sexual relationships tend to be coercive and male dominated, with limited or nonexistent possibilities for young women to negotiate about faithfulness, condom use, or even when and whether to have sex (Wood & Jewkes, 1997; Wood, Maforah, & Jewkes, 1998).

Other significant factors assessed as contributing to the AIDS in Africa crisis include unrealistic perceptions of risk (Blecher, Steinberg, Pick, Hennick, & Durcan, 1995), perceived disadvantages of protective measures (particularly condom use) outweighing perceived advantages (e.g., Wood, Maforah, & Jewkes, 1998), lack of knowledge of - or incorrect beliefs about - transmission and protection (Smith, de Visser, Akande, Rosenthal, & Moore, 1998), and lack of access to condoms (MacPhail & Campbell, 2000).

Given all these factors and the high (and increasing) rate of HIV/AIDS infection among young people in Cameroon, there is a pressing need to find ways to identify those most at risk. …

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