Studies pertaining to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among rural young adults in Ethiopia are limited. This study provides information on knowledge about common STIs, and the perceptions, preferences and use of health services for STIs, among youths and healthcare providers in predominately rural Butajira, a town in south-central Ethiopia. We performed mixed-method research, using a cross-sectional survey among 3 743 randomly selected youths aged 15–24 years, in 2004, and in-depth interviews with ten healthcare providers, in 2006. Less than 38% of the youths knew the common STIs. Among the sexually active youths (n = 802), 3.9% reported having at least one STI symptom in the past 12 months, and one-half of those who had had an STI symptom did not seek care from any source. The healthcare providers reported that the stigma associated with premarital sexual activity, the shamefulness of having an STI, and a perceived lack of confidentiality and uneasiness with the public health services were impediments to treatment-seeking in the study area. The youths in this study preferred to consult with healthcare providers of the same gender who were young, friendly and had a reputation for being empathetic. Embarrassment about having an STI and fear of being noticed by a familiar individual were perceived barriers to healthcare-seeking among the youths. The results suggest that young people are vulnerable to HIV exposure due to lack of knowledge about STIs and especially as a result of having an untreated STI. Health services that are uncoordinated and unable to handle youths’ sexual and reproductive health problems, as well as judgemental health professionals and prevailing sexual taboos, were also reported as impediments to youths seeking healthcare. Reorientation of the public health services and healthcare providers could improve youths’ healthcare-seeking for STIs.
Keywords: Africa, health behaviour, health beliefs, health education, health personnel, HIV/AIDS, interviews, research methodology, youth
African Journal of AIDS Research 2009, 8(2): 135–146