Let’s not talk about sex: Nigeria’s dilemma in face of AIDS

While surveys show sex among the young is widespread and HIV/AIDS is spreading, Africa's most populous country still struggles with straight talk about sex. Almost half of Nigeria's 120 million people are under the age of 18 and on average start having sex, most often unprotected, from the age of 15, surveys show. HIV/AIDS prevalence rates have risen to 5.4 percent of the adult population, passing the point at which the epidemic spreads into the general population, according to the latest survey published in December 1999. Yet, in March a series of radio commercials alerting young Nigerians to the dangers of unsafe sex was taken off air after concern over what was considered near-the-knuckle language. After a complaint by the state-run Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON), the National Broadcasting Commission ordered a stop to the adverts. Commission spokesman Ladan Salihu is quoted by AFP as saying that one particular advert violated the broadcasting code which says no broadcast should be "likely to be offensive to public feeling ... or disrespectful to human dignity." This in turn drew criticism. Dr. Leke Pitan, the health commissioner of the largest city, Lagos, criticised the ban as "unfortunate". "It will not help the current fight against AIDS," he told local television. After talks between government officials and the health ministry and the western-backed NGO which co-sponsored the campaign, the adverts are expected back on air soon but with some of the straight-talking toned down, ministry officials told AFP. The row over the adverts highlighted a dilemma for people concerned both with tackling HIV/AIDS and cultural and religious sensitivities.

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