Young people to put themselves at the heart of AIDS 2012

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Young people to put themselves at the heart of AIDS 2012

18 July 2012

UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé with the young delegates participating at the youth pre-conference event. Washington, DC. 18 July 2012.

Every day 2 400 young people aged 15 to 24 are infected with HIV around the globe, which represents 40% of all new infections among adults. With this age group bearing a significant burden of the epidemic, they must be central to the AIDS response. An event on the eve of AIDS 2012 is bringing together around 200 young people to ensure that youth participation in the major international AIDS gathering of the year is meaningful and effective.

Taking place 18-20 July, the ‘pre-conference’ is an opportunity for young delegates to connect with their peers, plan strategy and maximize their ability to navigate AIDS 2012 successfully. The event offers the possibility to share high quality information on the latest trends in the epidemic along with an examination of youth-specific issues, challenges and needs. Skills-based training on HIV is also provided to the young participants. Organized by YouthForce--a coalition of youth organizations from around the world—the pre-conference youth event has provided an essential platform for young people since the Barcelona International AIDS Conference in 2000.

“Young people bring a fresh perspective to the HIV response, fueled by passion and creativity,” said Mimi Melles, pre-conference co-chair and Officer at Advocates for Youth. “We are innovators and change-makers, and without our meaningful involvement, we will never be able to achieve our targets of zero new infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths,” she added.

In the last few years, there has been a particular emphasis on addressing the needs of young people living with HIV and those from key affected populations such as men who have sex with men, injecting drug users and sex workers. In January of this year, the United Nations Secretary-General presented his five-year action agenda where he outlined working for women and young people as one of his five priorities. Similarly, in October 2011, UNAIDS launched CrowdOutAIDS a youth-led policy project that used social media tools and crowdsourcing technology to enable young people from around the world to develop a set of recommendations for the UNAIDS Secretariat to work more effectively with young people in the AIDS response. The recommendations feed into the Secretariat’s New Generation Leadership Strategy aimed at increasing youth leadership, ownership and mobilization by 2015.

“We need a youth movement that takes ownership of the response and that holds governments accountable to scale up equitable access to HIV services,” said UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé speaking at the opening ceremony. “Through CrowdOutAIDS we enabled young people shape UNAIDS’ strategy for youth engagement, and I remain committed to implement it,” he added.

At the pre-conference event, UNAIDS together with the YouthForce will launch the collaboration project A Declaration for Change: How young people will achieve an AIDS-free generation - which will run for the duration of the pre-conference. It will allow all young people taking part in the event, as well as young people around the world, to outline a list of priorities that will lay the foundation for how youth organizations, networks and activists will collaborate and mobilize to reach the 2015 goals of the 2011 Political Declaration on AIDS.

Ways of effecting broad social mobilization among youth, especially young people in key populations, will be explored in detail during the youth event. High-risk populations often face significant challenges in accessing HIV treatment and other health care services because of stigma and discrimination.

Young people bring a fresh perspective to the HIV response, fueled by passion and creativity

Mimi Melles, pre-conference co-chair and Officer at Advocates for Youth

The meeting will also provide an opportunity to identify ways to remove existing social and legal barriers that block young people’s access to HIV services. For example, in nearly 70 countries there are laws or regulations that present obstacles to accessing HIV prevention services for young people. Only a fraction of nations in the most affected regions allow minors to access HIV testing without parental consent.

Not only is it seen as critically important for young people to act as leaders in the response, but concrete ways for youth to get involved in the design, implementation and monitoring and evaluation of HIV programmes will be debated. According to Aram Barra, YouthForce chairperson, his peers are more than ready for the challenge. “Organizations, networks and governments must build a long term strategy together, beyond AIDS2012, inclusive of newcomer activists and young people living with HIV,” said Mr Barra. “Only by doing this will we strengthen the global AIDS response,” he added.

During the three-day conference there will be a broad range of lively sessions including; HIV criminalization: Are you at risk?; Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender (GLBT) rights in the HIV movement; What is a successful youth-adult partnership?; Building youth AIDS competency for community action; Empowerment of young people in the sex trade; and How to tell a powerful story through photography.

Greater and better focused involvement of youth in the AIDS response will reap positive dividends as a significant portion of the general decline in new HIV infections is attributed to behavior change in the young. Between 2001 and 2010, HIV prevalence declined among people aged 15 to 24 in at least 21 of 24 countries with national prevalence of 1% or higher. The young delegates at AIDS 2012 are intent on using the conference to get their voices heard and help consolidate these gains when they return to their home countries.