Young people are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS globally. According to AVERT, AIDS is the number one cause of death for individuals aged between ten and 24 years in Africa, and the second leading cause of death worldwide. Young women have double the chances of acquiring HIV than young men, and young people remain the only key population group experiencing increases in AIDS-related deaths between 2000 and 2015.
With this in mind, it’s not surprising that the conference focused on young people in many sessions, and provided multiple platforms for HIV-positive young people to engage meaningfully at the conference. The youth global village was large and truly impressive, and I lost count of the number of up-and-coming positive young leaders that I heard present with conviction, and felt hopeful for the future of the fight against AIDS.
In order to create demand for services, young positive people need to know about the services available to them. Appropriate services for HIV-positive youth improve overall health outcomes (including quality of life). In addition, young people commented that they expect services to be accessible, acceptable, appropriate, effective, non-judgemental, and confidential. These inspirational young people stressed that peer support is critical.
In one youth session, community consultation was conducted with those present asked to respond to the following question, “What change do you want to see for youth and HIV?”
Some of the responses included:
- "Teach youth that HIV is not a joke.”
- “Youth to be more empowered in order to make informed choices about their health.”
- “Access to comprehensive sex education for all youth!”
- “Know your status. Living with HIV doesn’t mean you’ll be alone. Serodiscordance is possible!”
- “No stigma.”
- “Youth friendly SRH services.”
- “No discrimination/stigma in schools.”
- “ARV fast track. 100% access = healthy youth.”
- “Youth at the centre of designing prevention strategies for youth.”
- “Youth making quality informed decisions about their lives = realised dreams.”
So it’s clear from these responses that treatment access, young bodies, appropriate service delivery, stigma, and appropriate acknowledgement of young people for their contributions, comprehensive sexuality education, and prevention are all key issues for HIV-positive young people and those working with them.
What does this mean for HIV-positive young people in Australia? How do we ensure that services these young people access are appropriate to their needs? How do we get HIV-positive young people to meaningfully engage at all levels of the response as we work towards goals?
As one panellist commented, there are “too many dinosaurs” in positions of authority in HIV organisations globally. We need to create space for our future leaders, while encouraging them to be the best activists and advocates that they can be. Their voices and actions are crucial to ending HIV.