Advocates, researchers, policymakers and all those working in the field of HIV have an alarming situation on their hands. There is an estimated 1.2 million HIV-positive children and adolescents in Eastern and Southern Africa, where adolescents are reporting lower rates of ART adherence[i] and are the only demographic where deaths related to HIV continues to increase[ii].
Great progress has been made toward the support of those living with and affected by HIV, but in order to meet the needs of young people we to create more opportunities for them to participate in and shape the “adult or specialist areas of the AIDS response”.
RIATT-ESA Youth Leadership Programme at AIDS2016
From July 17, 2016 to July 22, 2016 RIATT-ESA advocated for the needs of children and adolescents at the International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2016), in Durban South Africa. During the AIDS 2016 conference RIATT-ESA provided a learning opportunity for 10 young people living with or affected by HIV to attend to conference. These young people came together to discuss the emerging evidence and how the HIV responses are being tailored to the needs of the youth in Eastern and Southern Africa.
One of the highlights for the young people during the conference was a discussion with the youth supported by RIATT-ESA and Jake Glaser (son of Elizabeth Glaser of EGPAF who is living with HIV). The discussions centred on the challenges of adhering to treatment, establishing a career, and romantic relationships.
By the end of the conference one message that came across strongly from the RIATT-ESA youth programme was when we empower the youth with information and skills they take concrete actions to help themselves and their communities to address the pressing challenges in their lives.
Nothing About Us with Out Us- Messages from the youth (Part 1)
Clever Ndanga, 26 years old, from Zimbabwe- Attending the aids conference was a life changing experience. The amount of research work and publication done on the subject is thorough and enriching. During the conference I couldn’t stop wondering why such information is not reaching the communities like mine? Why young people in the communities are still dying of HIV?
Upon returning to Zimbabwe I organized a group meeting with 17 adolescents, sharing simple information on the difference between HIV & AIDS. From this I realised that the problem of information not reaching the most vulnerable populations is bigger than I thought.
Based on this I have come up with a concept of developing ADO-KONNECTA (adolescent connecter), a mobile application to reach out to all young people. The application is meant to connect with the adolescents on the issues of sexuality. Sexuality because most people in African societies still shy away from an open discussion about sexuality and sexual choices.
For more information on ADO-KONNECTA watch this space.
Phakamani Moyo, 24 years old, from Zimbabwe- Attending the International AIDS conference in Durban was a dream come true for me. At the opening ceremony I was inspired by the speech by Charlize Theron, where she mentioned that AIDS does not discriminate and youth need to empowered to be the generation that puts an end to the AIDS pandemic. She added that young people have been carrying the burden of HIV on their own for too long now, and that more financial investment was needed from governments and donors to end AIDS.
During AIDS 2016 I was empowered by the discussion with Jake Glaser where he said that as young people living with HIV we need to know what we want and not be victims of our circumstances
Noluthando Gxagxa, 23 years old, from South Africa- What I have learnt at AIDS 2016, is that in order for us to reach this one goal of Zero HIV by 2030, we need to fight together to kill discrimination and stigma in our own communities. The key message that came from the conference is that has to start with me and you, together we can stop put an end to AIDS. We cannot let ourselves be victims because of the fear that once we disclose people will judge us. HIV does not define who we are but the action we take that define us.
The AIDS2016 conference has empowered me so that I can educate by peers and community about HIV, and encourage them to get tested.
Annet Nassaka, 24 years old, from Uganda- It was a great pleasure when BAYLOR clinic and PATA gave me an opportunity to attend the AIDS2016 Conference through the RIATT-ESA scholarship. During the conference some of what stood out to me was the importance of care beyond treatment, this included access to SRH services, education and others. I also got know that HIV shouldn’t drive me, I can do something else apart from being HIV Positive. I believe we peer support workers can make a difference in our fellow peers lives, and health care facilities by helping other young people to remain in care.
The key message that has stayed with me is that to End AIDS we shouldn’t wait for researchers and laboratories to come up with solutions. We and our communities have to end HIV through adhering to treatment, stopping stigma and encouraging others to test.
I also enjoyed the networking sessions with fellow peer supporters and other people in the conference at the youth networking zone and RIATT-ESA booth, as they helped build my confidence. I was also able to present on the youth friendly services and I represented my clinic at the children’s radio If young people are given the space to speak and be listened to, I believe we can end AIDS.
During the International AIDS Conference The Regional Interagency Task Team on Children and AIDS in Eastern and Southern Africa (RIATT-ESA) hosted a partner exhibition booth with ICPCN, HelpAge, PATA, and REPSSI. RIATT-ESA also co-hosted the Children and Youth Networking Zone in the Global Village, with the Coalition for Children affected by AIDS (CCABA) where there were two discussions a day and informal meeting of children’s activists. RIATT-ESA hosted a discussion on the social protection research report. A blog by ONE placed RIATT-ESA body art advocacy messages it sixth on the top ten advocacy stunts at the conference: https://www.one.org/africa/blog/ten-amazing-stunts-at-aids2016-to-blow-your-mind-away/
[ii] (UNICEF 2013, towards a AIDS free generation: children and AIDS sixth stocktaking report, 2013)