Ending the AIDS Epidemic in Adolescents

The International AIDS conference kicked off this week in Melbourne, Australia bringing together policymakers, those working in the field of HIV, persons living with the disease, and others committed to ending the endemic. Recognizing that we are at a critical time to ensure that HIV remains on top of the global agenda, this year’s theme – Stepping Up the Pace – is pushing adolescents to forefront.

According to UNICEF, by the end of 2012 approximately 2.1 million adolescents were living with HIV globally. About two thirds of new infections were among girls between the ages of 15 and 19 years old. Today’s adolescents have never experienced and AIDS-free world and face complicated risks and challenges that were unknown to previous generations. Compounded by the vulnerabilities that arise during adolescence, young men and women – and particularly girls – are facing high infection rates, poor access to treatments, and inadequate education. Despite these challenges, the global community is committing to addressing the specific needs of adolescents in order to cute infections in half by 2020.

Recognizing AIDS2014 as a platform to engage young people in a meaningful way, UNICEF led a powerful panel discussion on Sunday focusing on ending the AIDS epidemic in adolescents. The session brought together young people and leaders in government, research, and civil society to discuss the challenges experienced by adolescents, impact interventions for HIV, and opportunities to engage youth in future global health agendas.

Craig McClure, Chief of HIV/AIDS program division at UNICEF, kicked off the session stating that an AIDS-free generation is not possible without addressing the needs of adolescents. “This HIV area of response has been neglected for far too long,” McClure stated. “The challenges ahead are formidable but not insurmountable.”

According to UNICEF and the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), there are four main areas of concern that serve as motivators to increase programming and research efforts addressing HIV prevention, treatment, and care in adolescents:

  1. Adolescents living with HIV are more likely to die from AIDS than any other age group.
  2. Despite the global perspective that the AIDS epidemic has had a significant reduction between 2001 and 2012, progress has been uneven with new HIV infections growing among young people in high-burden countries.
  3. The increasing number of AIDS deaths in adolescents indicates that investments made to respond to HIV are inefficient.
  4. Most national responses are not tracking the health status or outcomes of adolescents aged 10-19, creating missed opportunities for early intervention and effective planning.

Kate Gilmore, UNFPA Deputy Executive Director, spoke passionately about these areas of concern, adding the importance of considering what it’s like to be an adolescent.

“Never before have there been so many embarking on the journey from childhood to adulthood.”

As Gilmore pointed out, the global agenda must not only focus on priority areas but also the social and economic issues youth face. Adolescents who are HIV-positive are asking questions like ‘how will I find love?’ and ‘how will I receive support at home?’ In order to create a global agenda that meets the needs of youth, Gilmore stated that it is imperative that the post-2015 agenda must bring young people to the table to make decision in prevention and treatment. It is their voice that will highlight the specific needs not being met and what integrated approaches will work.

Perhaps the most inspiring speaker during Sunday’s session was Karen Dunaway Gonzalez, an eighteen year old and recent high-school graduate from Honduras, who shared her personal experiences of bullying, discrimination and stigma surrounding her diagnosis.

“I know how discrimination feels and I never want my fellow peers to feel it.”

Gonzales is now using her voice to raise awareness of the issues HIV-positive adolescents face and is calling for adolescents around the world to receive comprehensive sexual health and rights education.

The AIDS epidemic affects adolescents in every country of the world, especially in resource-limited countries. As the speakers noted, it is critical that the specific needs of young people are considered when creating the post-2015 agenda to ensure that adolescents receive their deserved prevention, treatment, care, and support. Healthy, educated, and empowered adolescents are not only the future, but the key to an AIDS-free generation.

For more information, please visit the following resources:

Featured image credit: Zoriah on Flickr

Youth Voices at PMNCH Partners’ Forum 2014

We have been present at the PMNCH Partners’ Forum 2014 in Johannesburg, South Africa this week, where close to 200 youth delegates participated and advocated to include youth priorities in the post-2015 agenda. We had the opportunity to be inspired by their leadership and hear their views and recommendations. .

Gogontlejang Phaladi, Botswana

Mohammed Magdy El Khayat, Egypt

Cecilia Garcia Ruiz, Mexico

1. The global community has made significant progress in saving the lives of women and children. What do you think stands out as a key accomplishment?

2. What are some broader economic, health and social benefits from investing in women’s and children’s health?

3. Remaining gaps can be solved through partnership. Globally, where is political will and commitment for children’s health needed most?

Zanele Mabaso, South Africa

Sumaya Saluja, India

Felogene Anumo, Kenya

Felogene reads the youth recommendations that were put together at the Youth Pre-Forum on June 29th, prior to the PMNCH Partners’ Forum. The recommendations were presented at a Laadership Dialogue with Youth including Dr Margaret Chan (WHO), Kathy Calvin (UN Foundation, Babatunde Osotimehin (UNFPA), Amina Mohammed (UN, Post-2015), and Carole Presern (PMNCH). The whole document can be found here.

Melissa Kubvoruno, Zimbabwe

See all of our video coverage from PMNCH Partners’ Forum 2014 here.

Commit to Deliver for Young Girls & Women in the Post-2015 Agenda

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By: Felogene Anumo, Advocacy Programme Associate. The African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), @Felogene on Twitter

The Millennium Development Goals have been the central reference point for global development efforts and have had success in drawing attention to poverty as an urgent global priority. Though the world has made progress towards achieving the MDGs, more can and must be done, especially with regards to addressing the needs of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of young women and girls.

The importance of adolescents’ access to SRHR is a key element to the fight against poverty.

About 1.8 billion young people are entering their reproductive years, often without the knowledge, skills and services they need to protect themselves. Among the root causes of current high rates of maternal and newborn mortality are unintended pregnancies — particularly among girls and adolescents. According to the World Health Organisation, approximately 800 women die every day in the process of giving life due to preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Many of these mothers are young girls who have consistently had their rights and dignity violated.

Despite these glaring facts and the harsh reality, most young people still lack the information and resources necessary to make healthy choices, including protection against HIV/AIDS, other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and the development of healthy relationships. The health and social-economic consequences of teenage pregnancy are enormous. Early parenthood is likely to affect educational achievements with significant employment and socio-economic ramifications, while health complications for both teen mother and her unborn child or infant child are very high.


As young women and girls at the 2014 PMNCH Partners’ Forum we recognise that healthy populations, particularly women, children and young people are at the centre of sustainable development and that increasingly, evidence shows that healthy well-being in adolescence shapes the entire life course of individuals.

We therefore, call on all members attending the PMNCH Partners’ forum to within their efforts, reflect the following youth and adolescent priorities in the Post 2015 Development Agenda.

  • Fulfill the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people by ensuring continuing age-appropriate sexuality education, comprehensive access to contraception and safe and legal abortion services by eliminating le legal, social and economic barriers that prevent women and girls from accessing their sexual and reproductive health;
  • Commit to end all forms of violence and particularly to eliminate harmful and unethical practices affecting young women and girls including forced child marriage, girl pledging and female genital cutting;
  • Increase investments in social, political and environmental determinants of young people’s health these include secondary education, youth unemployment, nutrition security, social exclusion, including income inequality, sexual diversity and gender equality.
  • Allow for meaningful youth engagement not only the designing but also the implementation of health programs and policies aimed at improving health outcomes

See more: Third PMNCH Partners’ Forum Youth Pre -Forum Outcome Document

Watch Felogene read the recommendations from the Youth Pre-Forum Outcome Document

Join the conversation using #Commit2Deliver



Shining a Spotlight on Non-Communicable Diseases Post-2015

As the world turns to the 67th World Health Assembly this week in Geneva, the development community rightly focuses on what the Millennium Development Goals will look like in a post-2015 world. Health issues like HIV/AIDS, Malaria and maternal/child health have been at the forefront of international development, and rightly so. While big gains have been made in issues like child survival, efforts would have to be redoubled to meet the global targets to reduce child mortality. There is a key issue beginning to gain traction in international development, one that could cost the global economy more than $30 trillion in the next 20 years – non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

What are NCDs?

NCDs refer to chronic diseases that are not passed from person to person. There are four main types of NCDs:

  • Cardiovascular disease (i.e., heart attack and stroke)
  • Cancer
  • Chronic respiratory disease (i.e., chronic obstructed pulmonary disease and asthma)
  • Diabetes, illnesses that result in more than 36 million deaths annually

NCDs are the leading causes of death in all regions except Africa, however current projections show that by 2020 the largest increases in NCD deaths will occur in Africa.

While NCDs are typically associated with the elderly, all age groups and all regions are affected by them. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 9 million of all deaths attributed to NCDs occur before the age of 60. In fact, NCDs are the leading cause of death for women worldwide, causing 65% of all female deaths (18 million deaths annually).

Caused by genetics or lifestyle choices (i.e. unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, exposure to tobacco smoke, harmful use of alcohol) NCDs threaten progress towards the Millennium Development Goals as diseases are driven by things like ageing, rapid urbanization, and the globalization of unhealthy lifestyles. Poverty exacerbates these issues, especially in low-income countries where the world’s most vulnerable are exposed to harmful pollution and poor nutrition yet have limited access to health services.

NCDs can have a devastating effect on families due to high medical costs, cost of transportation to and from health facilities, and loss of productivity. Death by NCDs can drive families deeper into poverty, resulting in a greater burden to children and surviving family members. As women in the developing world are often responsible for household work – such as collecting firewood, cooking, gathering water, and tending livestock – that burden then falls onto children.

Photo Credit: Pete Lewis / Department for International Development
Photo Credit: Pete Lewis / Department for International Development

Healthier Habits

In order to decrease the impact of NCDs, WHO recommends a comprehensive approach of all sectors (i.e., health, finance, foreign affairs, education, agriculture) to change the behavior of members of at-risk communities. By encouraging a healthy lifestyle (free of tobacco use, less alcohol, and proper nutrition) communities can begin to understand the risks of unhealthy habits and inform their families and communities. With this in mind, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) launched a global initiative called ‘4 Healthy Habits‘ during a side event at the 67th World Health Assembly.The partnership will provide Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers information and tools to promote healthy lifestyles and change behaviors within communities around the world.

 ’4 Healthy Habits’ core strength is the empowerment of communities. Using simple tools adapted to local contexts, beneficiaries will be able to take charge of their own health.” – Eduardo Pisani, IFPMA Director General

 The ‘4 Healthy Habits’ initiative kicks off this month in Asia-Pacific and Europe, where 50 trained facilitators and volunteers from 33 countries will work to raise awareness about the dangers of NCDs, promote healthier habits, and conduct basic screenings.

Challenges Ahead

While behavioral change is challenging in itself, other trials loom in the face of preventing NCDs. Early diagnosis is a critical component of preventing deaths yet remains extremely difficult in less developed countries where communities have little to no access to health centers, vaccines, or proper equipment. Initiatives like ‘4 Healthy Habits’ are hoping to prove that interventions and early detection are positive economic investments as they can reduce the need for more expensive treatment or long-term care.

Financing also remains a challenge, though the global development community is hopeful that NCDs will gain more support after the MDGs expire in 2015. At last year’s World Health Assembly meeting, a 20.5% increase in WHO’s 2014-2015 budget for NCDs was approved – from $264 million to $318 million.

As the ‘4 Healthy Habits’ initiative launches this week, advocates for increasing visibility of NCDs are hopeful that NCD prevention will soon be included in donor and policymaker agendas. Preventative care is a cost-effective approach to creating a healthier world for all and ensuring the livelihood of men, women, and children all over the world.

Infographic by The NCD Alliance
Infographic by The NCD Alliance

Girls must be central to the Post 2015 Agenda

The health and status of women and girls are inextricably linked to the well-being and prosperity of families, communities, and economies. Yet today, nearly 15 years on from the launch of the MDGs, progress on reproductive health lags seriously behind. Approximately 800 women and girls die every day from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth, and 99 percent of these occur in developing countries.

Infographic c/o Women Deliver

Additionally, over 222 million women have an unmet need for modern contraception. Investing in the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls has never been more critical. The largest-ever cohort of young people is entering their reproductive years, and their access to sexual and reproductive health information and services will have enormous implications for the trajectories of their lives. Advancing the reproductive health of women and girls also pays enormous dividends for development – poverty rates go down, education rates go up and greater prosperity follows.

As the 58th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women is underway in New York, USA discussions and negotiations are taking place to shape the post-2015 development agenda.   Hence, now is the time to ensure that sexual and reproductive health and rights is a priority in the post-2015 agenda. I think it is essential that we realise that when we talk about sexual reproductive health and rights we are talking about young women and girls.

As a young woman and youth advocate, I am committed to ensuring that young women and girls are central to the Post 2015 agenda. I say this as the Post 2015 agenda must address the most marginalised populations and as girls and young women are two of these key populations they need to be part of the decision making process. In order to do this young women and girls must be empowered and engaged in meaningful participation. Meaningful engagement of young women can be understood as a series of empowering moments that move in the direction of the ‘decision-making table.’ She can advise, share, sing or cry her opinions on political reforms, policies, programmes and development initiatives that directly affect her and will allow for effective use of resources, both human and natural.

Image c/o Flickr Creative Commons

In a world where ‘one in three women will be beaten or raped in her lifetime,’ successful and sustainable change will require transformative leadership. This means leadership that will challenge and change the status quo and the systems and structures that perpetuate discrimination, inequality and denial of human dignity. In order for this to happen young women and girls need safe spaces to be themselves, share experiences, access information and discuss ‘taboo’ subjects without fear or judgement.

At the World YWCA (where I am lucky enough to work), we have developed a model of safe spaces which has emerged from our programming on sexual reproductive health and rights in Sub-Saharan Africa. Globally there is a frightening unmet need for family planning and as the world’s population saws we must ask ourselves what are we doing to address this? Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest adolescent fertility rate in the world, with girls under the age of 16 years of age facing four times the risk of maternal mortality than women over the age of 20. In Mexico 42% of young men and 26% of young women between 15 and 19 years have had a sexual relationship; only 47% of these young men and 15% of young women had used a condom during their first sexual intercourse. The HIV and AIDS rates are increasing in Eastern Europe. In Nepal 86% of married adolescents aged 15-19 are not using a modern contraceptives, every 4 hours one girl died from pregnancy relation complications. This is a global issue! The lack of adequate, accessible and youth friendly sexual and reproductive health services not only affect the educational and economic opportunities of present and future generations, but threaten their very survival.

Young people, particularly young women, must be educated and empowered on their own sexual reproductive health and rights. Without access to non-judgmental, confidential and evidence-based sexual and reproductive health information and services, young women remain vulnerable to unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortion and sexually transmitted infections. Many young women are confronted with the consequences of early and forced marriage and child bearing.

Girls' Globe blogger Marcia Banasko at CSW58 in New York City
Girls’ Globe blogger Marcia Banasko at CSW58 in New York City

If we are to achieve a world of peace, equality and justice, we must be accountable to the world’s 860 million young women. We are more than a statistic – we are a valuable asset to nations, a critical population group for achieving sustainable human development and our voices must count in shaping the future of humanity. It is essential gender equality is retained as a stand-alone goal and that gender is mainstreamed across all the targets.

For Information:

World YWCA Global Call for Act: The Future Young Women Want

UNFPA Launches Advocacy Platform for Post-2015 Development Framework

Cover image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

The Girl Declaration!

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At the 2013 Women Deliver Conference, the Girl Tree provided an interactive experience for conference participants to listen to the stories of girls from around the world. On October 1st,  the Nike Foundation in coordination with the United Nations Foundation is launching the Girl Declaration. The Girl Declaration is a call to action that aims to ensure that adolescent girls are included in the post-2015 agenda. The Declaration shows that girls’ voices are powerful and need to be heard. Simply put, prioritizing girls in the post-2015 agenda requires that governments, organizations, individuals and various other stakeholders LISTEN. 

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#GirlDeclaration #MDG456Live

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This week during the United Nations General Assembly and the Clinton Global Initiative the Girl Declaration “took the stage” as organizations, dignitaries and individuals showed their support. Two spirited Rwandan journalists Benigne and Sifa continue to dedicate their time and talents to making the Girl Declaration known.

Over the past several months, hundreds of girls have been met with and asked simple questions related to their dreams, hopes and aspirations. Liba and Farwa are two beautiful girls who raise their powerful voices and with strength share their stories.

Plans are underway to reach out to more girls in seven new countries. The movement to prioritize girls on the post-2015 agenda continues to grow. Join the movement by signing the Girl Declaration today!

Watch the Girl Declaration Video!

Follow #GirlDeclaration and #girls2015