Exploring the role of young activists in the AIDS response

17 November 2014

It will be impossible to end the AIDS epidemic without the activism and leadership of young people, said UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé during a special town hall meeting in New York sponsored by the public affairs journal The Atlantic.

The meeting, entitled Rebels with a Cause: Igniting a Culture of Activism in Youth, used AIDS as a prime example of how young people are mobilizing for important causes.

Participants noted that activism by young people has played a pivotal role in the history of AIDS, making many of the achievements over the past decade possible. During the first decade of the epidemic, young activists demanded action on the epidemic and successfully advocated for radical changes to the clinical trials and drug approval processes.

During an interview-style session with Nancy Mahon, Global Director of the MAC AIDS Fund, Mr Sidibé underscored the importance of youth leadership in the AIDS response. He stressed the need to involve young people as partners in order to build responses that work for them.

Examples of activism by young people were highlighted during the event, specially the importance of personal narratives in making a difference. According to the participants, it is vital to use the energy and leadership of young people to demand action to lay the groundwork to put an end to the epidemic.


“Young people no longer want to be passive recipients of our programmes. They want to be agents of change.”

Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS Executive Director

“Steps forward have been made through bravery, personal narrative and controversy.”

Nancy Mahon, Global Director, MAC AIDS Fund

"We are all capable of inciting change and young people more than ever have a vital role to play.”

Vanessa Kerry, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Seed Global Health