There is still an immense gap when it comes to addressing the needs of young people in the HIV epidemic. With 35% of all new HIV infections around the world occurring among young people aged 15 to 24, more needs to be done. At the 21st International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2016), we saw the impact of providing young people with the platform to speak truth to power as leaders in the HIV field.
This International Youth Day, we asked young people working in the field of HIV to share the five steps we must take to ensure that the youth of today are enabled to be the HIV leaders of this generation and the generations to come.
Be honest about what needs to be done
The HIV epidemic is fueled by a lack of honest conversations, particularly around sex, sexuality, and the needs of the people most heavily impacted. Shame, denial, stigma and a lack of true empowerment are some of the key factors that continue to fuel this epidemic, especially among the youth. An open inter- generational dialogue about the social, political and structural realities facing a diverse range of young people must be amplified.
Enable youth leadership – especially among young people living with HIV
Young people should not just be passive recipients of HIV services; they should be in the driver’s seat, helping to design and implement HIV prevention, care and treatment programmes that respond to the lived realities of their lives. This is especially true for the next generation of young leaders openly living with HIV. Opportunities must be created and increased for young people living with and affected by HIV to take up leadership roles within the HIV response.
Turn rhetoric into real investments in HIV programmes for youth
Judging by pronouncements from organizations and public events, it would seem that young people are a top priority in the HIV response. The reality is that there is no consistent support when it comes to investment. We need more programmes like DREAMS – a PEPFAR initiative focused on young women and girls – that go beyond health services to address the structural and social drivers of HIV among young people.
Provide integrated comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and HIV services
Young people need HIV services and other sexual and reproductive health services. Simple as it may sound, there is a lot of work to be done in the integration of these services, so that young people can more easily access the services they need, and service providers can more easily reach young people. Front line health care providers are the key to providing “youth friendly”, stigma free service environments for young people, so they can access a range of best practice services, from condoms to PrEP to frank discussions about sex, and other services.
Scale up political commitment
The political response has been and will remain inadequate if it continues to fail to meet the evolving needs of young people affected by and living with HIV. At the front and centre of the world’s political agenda, top priority needs to be given to the realities of the youth, who represent a diverse range of young people - young women and girls; young key populations (men who have sex with men, sex workers, transgender people and people who inject drugs); young people in detention; migrants and men and boys.
Now must be the time to prioritize the pivotal, even revolutionary, role that young people have to play in ending the HIV epidemic.