Young people key to reversing HIV/AIDS epidemic

A report by The Global Inter-Agency Task Team (IATT) titled ‘Securing the Future’ on HIV and Young People  has stated that global commitments to HIV eradication will only be achieved if the needs of the young people are recognized and if their human rights are met and protected. The IATT report stresses that young people are a key resource in reversing the AIDS epidemic. They note that the legal and policy barriers that prevent young people from accessing HIV services must first be addressed in order for young people to become more effectively engaged in the response.

The youth-led response has been effective, as data from UNAIDS shows that young people are leading the “HIV prevention revolution”,  taking more action to protect themselves and changing their sexual behaviours in order to avoid contracting the disease. As a result, in 15 out of the 21 countries worst affected by HIV/AIDS, the HIV prevalence among young people is dropping.

This trend is overwhelmingly positive considering that in 2009 young people accounted for 41% of all new infections, with 3000 new infections every day. In 2009, in total, there were 4.9 million youths living with HIV/AIDS worldwide. These statistics illustrate the urgent need to tailor HIV prevention and treatment programmes in order to reduce infections worldwide.

A side event to the United Nations meeting on youth in New York, (under the theme of “Youth: Dialogue and mutual understanding”) allowed many young people to have direct conversations with policy-makers to encourage an increase in HIV prevention and treatment services for young people, as well as to encourage more active involvement and leadership of young people in the AIDS response. At this event several agencies collaborated (including UNFPA, ILO, Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Population Council and Catholic Relief Services and UNAIDS) alongside the young leaders and governments, to look for solutions to reach their shared mission of “Zero new HIV infections, Zero discrimination and Zero AIDS-related deaths” among young people.

The report also acknowledges that simply directing more resources towards the youth population will not necessarily increase HIV testing and uptake of services. Instead, it argues that there is a need to empower young people, especially young women, to exercise their sexual and reproductive health rights. By doing so, the “HIV prevention revolution” can continue with vigour. The report also agues that there is a need to improve programmes for young people and to repeal national laws and policies that restrict access to HIV services. It is therefore, once again, not only an issue of lack of treatments or even lack of young people’s adherence to the treatments and preventing illness, but rather an issue of lack of political will to address the laws and policies that restrict access to services.

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