Young people must ‘rise up and be counted’ in HIV response

A Zambian government minister is raising awareness of the urgent need to include young people living with HIV in the response to the epidemic.

A Zambian government minister is raising awareness of the urgent need to include young people living with HIV in the response to the epidemic.

Professor Nkandu Luo, minister in charge of chiefs and traditional affairs, said adolescents who were born with and are living with HIV must be involved at every stage of the process of delivering HIV programmes, in order to mitigate the impact of the virus.

“Recent studies in Zambia have showed that while infections are going down in other age groups, infections are rising among young people,” said Professor Luo, as she closed the African regional Adolescent Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights Symposium in Lusaka, Zambia on 10 December.

Taking centre stage

Professor Luo also talked about the particular issues young people who were born with the virus face, especially as some only learn their status when they grow into adulthood.

“Unless you put them at the centre stage and start addressing their issues, our fight against HIV will be meaningless,” she said.

She called on young people to “rise up and be counted” and demand what they want to be done to address HIV and their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Targeting adolescent girls

The symposium highlighted difficulties young people currently face in accessing HIV services, as well as the gender inequalities which make adolescent girls more vulnerable to HIV.

Of the 300,000 new infections among adolescents aged 15-19 in 2013, there were twice as many new infections among girls as in boys. And when young people are able to find services, many report being poorly treated, discriminated against and sometimes refused services.

Much more needs to be done to ensure both girls and boys living with HIV have the treatment, quality care, support and access to the social safety nets they need to survive and thrive.

Action plan on adolescents and HIV

Delegates agreed on a 12-point action plan to speed up interventions which promote sexual and reproductive health and rights and address HIV.

Christabel Mung’oma and Edgar Nindi, two medical students from the University of Zambia, read a communique at the end of the symposium, summing up the outcomes of the event.

“Adolescent girls are disproportionately affected in sexual and reproductive health and rights and HIV matters. A special gender lens should be used to ensure interventions address issues like adolescent pregnancies, HIV and maternal mortality,” the communique said.

The delegates resolved to: “Tackle systems and gender stereotypes that promote oppression of women and makes them vulnerable to abuses of their sexual health rights and HIV.”

Resolution number 12 simply reaffirmed the symposium’s theme: “The time to act is now.”

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