Youngsters to get key role in drive against HIV
Harry gives sub-Saharan testing, treatment royal seal of approval
GLOBAL HIV leaders have committed to ensuring young people affected by HIV/Aids play an integral part in shaping new research and policies to strengthen HIV prevention, testing and treatment in sub-Saharan Africa.
The agreement was made during a roundtable discussion organised by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, the charity Sentebale and its co-founding patron Prince Harry.
Sentebale “youth advocates” from Lesotho and Botswana described the challenges of living with HIV, and the barriers that prevent young people in southern Africa from knowing and managing their HIV status, including stigma, poor education and services that rarely engage with the reality of being a young person living with or at risk of HIV.
While great progress has been made in tackling the HIV epidemic in recent years, evidence shows adolescents have been left behind.
Unicef reported in 2015 that the number of adolescent deaths from Aids had tripled in 15 years. UNAids estimates highlight that last year, 150 adolescents died due to Aids-related illnesses every day, and HIV remains one of the leading causes of death for adolescents in Africa.
The situation is particularly urgent for adolescent girls and young women in sub-Saharan Africa.
In 2015, nearly 7 500 young women aged 15 to 24 years acquired HIV each week.
Prince Harry said: “To me it is totally absurd that in today’s world that for young people, the first time they hear anything about HIV and Aids, it’s probably by the time it is too late.
“HIV needs to be treated exactly the same as any other disease, and between us hopefully we can eradicate the stigma and give these young people an opportunity to stand up and say, ‘I’ve lived it… and I want to make a difference’.”
At the roundtable event, key representatives from organisations including UNAids, the Global Fund to Fight Aids, TB and malaria, Pepfar, and the International Aids Society outlined commitments as to how they, as the leading figures in the Aids response, could help address the needs of youth across the sub-Saharan African region.
These commitments included raising the voice of youth in southern Africa at next year’s International Aids Conference in Amsterdam, providing a stronger platform for evidence-based decision-making around HIV prevention, testing and treatment among adolescents, and enhanced support for lobbying ministries of health to tackle policy issues.
Present at the roundtable were youth advocates Tlotlo Moilwa, from Botswana, and Kananelo Khalla and Ts’epang Maboee, from Lesotho, both of whom are living with HIV.
Khalla said: “I want to give a sense of hope that there is still life if you are HIV-positive… I have a vision of keeping the next generation alive.”
Researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine will bring together the latest and most rigorous scientific evidence on barriers to young people knowing and managing their HIV status, along with best-practice approaches to address these challenges.
They will also develop a brief that consolidates evidence and builds on research on the drivers of HIV for young people, including alcohol, intimate partner violence, transactional sex, stigma and social norms.
Professor Peter Piot, director of the school and a former executive director of Unaids said: “The largest ever generation of adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa are at risk of HIV and yet the world is not listening to them.
“Young people should be involved every step of the way, from research development to policymaking.”
Prince Harry met researchers working on various HIV interventions including de-stigmatisation, saw a demonstration of an HIV self-testing kit currently being used in a trial in Malawi, and learnt of the links between domestic violence and women and girls’ risk of HIV.
This event forms part of Sentebale’s initiative called Let Youth Lead, which co-founding patron, Prince Seeiso, launched in Lesotho in April. The programme provides a platform for youths to advocate to their peers to test for HIV and manage their status whether it is negative or positive, and to drive positive change in HIV interventions that better support the needs of this age group in the region.
The programme has evolved from the charity’s presence at the International Aids Conference in Durban last year, where Prince Harry and Prince Seeiso presented with Sir Elton John and a group of young people living with HIV in a session called “Ending Aids with the Voices of Youth”.
Sentebale’s founding patron, Prince Harry, visits the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine for a tour and special roundtable discussion. The event brings together global HIV/Aids leaders to listen to youth affected by HIV from Lesotho and Botswana.