Leading development agencies launch new campaign to prevent HIV in adolescents
Leaders from around the world met in Nairobi on 17 February, to launch a new global campaign to tackle adolescent AIDS, the second leading cause of death among teens globally.
In Africa, AIDS remains the leading cause of adolescent deaths. Around the world an estimated 21 million adolescents are living with HIV, 80% of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa and don’t know their status.
The ‘All In’ to end adolescent AIDS campaign, led by UNAIDS, UNICEF and partners seeks to address the fact that rates of HIV are declining in all other age groups, but adolescents are being left behind. All In will advocate for strategic changes in policy and to succeed will need to engage more young people in the effort, involving them in decision making.
“We can’t talk about ending AIDS or getting to zero without including adolescents in every decision-making platform,” said Consolata Opiyo, from Y+, the Global Network of Young People Living with HIV. “Adolescents are the group most affected by HIV and they are tomorrow’s leaders.”
Addressing adolescent AIDS in Kenya
During the launch of All In at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre, President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta said: “30% of new HIV infections in Kenya are in the adolescents group with 17% of AIDS-related deaths falling in this category.” The campaign is aimed at reducing new HIV infections among adolescents and particularly young women in the country. “The high rate of infection among adolescents is a great challenge and threat to the economic prospects of the country and continent at large,” Kenyatta added.
Currently 42% of positive youth are not on antiretrovirals and Kenyatta said that this issue should be addressed immediately. He directed the ministries of education and health to initiate programmes that will ensure all children living with HIV are provided with life-saving antiretroviral medications. He also specifically urged the ministry of education to review the school curriculum and include lessons on how to deal with HIV and AIDS.
Kenyatta continued: “We now have the statistics we need to act. There is need to change our attitudes towards HIV and re-examine the education curriculum and empower teachers to engage those of our young people with HIV, if we are to realise the promise of Kenya’s future.”
Socio-economic empowerment of youth
At a time when the country is looking forward to unprecedented growth and change economically, HIV among adolescents is threatening to rob this promise due to the challenges driven by vulnerabilities and lack of opportunities which relate to socio-economic empowerment of the youth.
“Vulnerabilities and barriers to the youth’s meaningful participation must be addressed if we are to meaningfully engage the youth in generating the country’s wealth,” said Kenyatta.
The Kenyan government has committed to increase budgetary allocations to the education sector to ensure that all children are retained in school until they attain the age of 18 years. This was in addition to a raft of commitments aimed at eliminating vulnerability and empowering the country’s youth.
Ending adolescent AIDS
Partners in the campaign include UNFPA, WHO and PEPFAR, as well as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the MTV Staying Alive Foundation, Y+ and the HIV Young Leaders Fund on behalf of the PACT.
To succeed in reducing the high rate of HIV infection among young people many issues must be addressed, including the need for young people to be in the driving seat to end adolescent AIDS. They need to have more than just a tokenistic involvement in the campaign.
“We can’t say that we are on the right track to end AIDS if it continues being the main cause of death for adolescents in Africa,” said Pablo Aguilera, executive director of the HIV Young Leaders Fund and Co-Chair of the PACT. “We must ensure that no adolescent is left behind.”
Sidi Sarro lives in Kenya and is a member of the Key Correspondents network which focuses on marginalised groups affected by HIV, to report the health and human rights stories that matter to them. The network is supported by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance.