54 young people from 17 different countries across Africa, hosted a Youth Satellite Session at the 21st International AIDS Conference on Youth Leadership in Achieving Universal Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights and Ending AIDS by 2030, hosted in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), South Africa’s National Department of Health and Johnson & Johnson.
The youth satellite session was creatively organised, featuring poetry, drama, music and a panel discussion where the young people shared perspectives on how living with and without HIV affects them individually and broadly within the communities they live in. They engaged in an intriguing inter-generational dialogue with key decision makers, stressing the need for multilateral organizations and governments to collaborate with young people to deliver better programs and initiatives at local levels. This could help to achieve better results towards reducing new infections and ultimately ending HIV/AIDS amongst youth and adolescents aged 15-24 across the continent. Meaningful youth engagement was mentioned as a prerequisite in giving young people the opportunity to be part of leadership structures that are involved in the planning, designing, monitoring and evaluation of policies, programs, and project initiatives on a local, national, regional and global level. Youth voices continuously reiterated that, without youth involvement in key decision making platforms, to influence decisions made in delivering activities building up to the achievement of the AIDS 2030 response, the global health community would be missing out on critical information and perspectives from young people.
The youth satellite session focused attention to discussing “new ways of doing business with young people,” with mention to the national health community in Africa to invest in harnessing the demographic dividend in a holistic manner, using integrative approaches to combat the potential spread of HIV/AIDS amongst their generation within the next 15 years. Partnership-building, advocacy strengthening, resource mobilization and human rights promotion towards achieving universal sexual reproductive health and access to HIV prevention, treatment and care are vital to maintaining progress towards ending the AIDS epidemic in Africa and the world. In implementing the 90–90–90 treatment target to ensure 30 million people living with HIV have access to treatment by 2020, young people have to be collaborated with – as implementing partners and not only as beneficiaries of health services. Young people must be incorporated into structures dealing with the epidemic response, to ensure that key interventions developed are inclusive and respond to the needs of young people and adolescents who are largely affected by HIV/AIDS.
At the end of 2015, the number of people on HIV treatment reached 17 million, exceeding the 2015 target of reaching 15 million people. Leaders pledged to ensure that 90% of people (children, adolescents and adults) living with HIV know their status, 90% of people living with HIV who know their status are receiving treatment and 90% of people on treatment have suppressed viral loads (90-90-90). United Nations Member States, including South Africa and various other countries in Africa have adopted the Political Declaration on Ending AIDS to scale up the pace of progress and reach a set of time-bound targets. Countries have agreed to a historic and urgent agenda to accelerate efforts towards ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030. The targets and commitments, adopted in the Political Declaration on Ending AIDS: on the Fast-Track to Accelerate the Fight against HIV and to End the AIDS Epidemic by 2030, will guide the world in addressing the critical linkages between health, development, injustice, inequality, poverty and conflict.
Young people across Africa, pleaded their country commitments to ending AIDS, below are some of the declarations from the Sub-Saharan region, the region most affected by the epidemic:
- Uganda: “We declare that we will advocate for measures to avoid and prevent HIV and collaborate with fellow advocates and government to ensure that services are availed to those that need them; and that staff are positive minded about those individuals that seek services. We call upon governments to ensure hat circumcision services are available at every government health center so that people can easily access them.”
- Kenya: “We declare we will educate young women and girls about the importance of taking care of their bodies. We declare to involve adolescents and young people meaningfully, especially those who have been marginalized and previously ignored. We declare to work with government, civil society, private sector, and faith sector to ensure integrated interventions are developed in education, agriculture, tourism and health for young people”
- Zambia: “We declare we will educate young people on how to prevent AIDS and will partner with youth around the world, volunteering our time, expertise and resources on this en-devour of fighting stigma and discrimination to end AIDS by 2030”
It is evident that young people are ready for collaboration in accelerating action to achieve Universal Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights and ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030, as young people today, are the generation that will end AIDS tomorrow. What the global, regional and national health community needs to do – is bring young people to the table, and structurally invest in their involvement, participation, meaningful engagement and leadership.
“If we support our young people, if we give them the confidence and the space to speak out. If we take the time to listen and empower them – they WILL end this epidemic.” – Charlize Theron (International AIDS Conference 2016).
Girls’ Globe is present at the 2016 International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa (17-22nd of July). Follow our team on social media @GirlsGlobe, @FHI360 & @JNJGlobalHealth and by using the hashtag #EndHIV4Her for inspiring blog posts, interviews and updates! To sign up for the daily In Focus Newsletter visit crowd360.org/aids2016/.
Cover photo credit: International AIDS Society, 2016