Young­sters to get key role in drive against HIV

Harry gives sub-Sa­ha­ran test­ing, treat­ment royal seal of ap­proval

The Star Early Edition - - HEALTH - STAFF REPORTER

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.

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