Millions of young people in Africa and elsewhere have grown up in the world of HIV/AIDS, never knowing what life was like before the pandemic. As a result, many youth activists are now lobbying for a greater voice in HIV/AIDS programs and policies.
Thabo Sephuma is a 26-year-old South African youth activist. From Geneva, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the effects of HIV/AIDS on youth.
“One of the impacts is people have been denied education because of HIV and AIDS. They’re losing their parents. Their parents are getting sick. And they tend to be first parents at an early age. And the other one is this vulnerability of young people. There are high rates of infection. And the other impact is the label that young people have been labeled by the community at large globally and nationally that they are vulnerable. But at the same time they’re not given an opportunity to take part in decision making, policy making, in fine tuning the programs that will respond effectively according to their needs.”
He explains what can be done to empower young people in the age of HIV/AIDS. “I think what needs to be done is to recognize that young people have expertise, experience and knowledge to contribute in a holistic approach to respond…effectively against HIV and AIDS. So I think we just need that recognition. Somebody, somewhere needs to listen. Bring us, as young people, to the table…. We stop saying we are the future. We are also the present. The future will be affected and die before the future arrives, so we just need that recognition and appreciation.”
Sephuma says HIV/AIDS has made relationships difficult on all levels regarding family, friends and sexual partners. “People are scared to talk about HIV and AIDS and you are scared to confront the next person to find out about their HIV and AIDS because people are not willing and ready to talk about sexuality, and in particular HIV and AIDS.” He says it’s a challenge and becomes a matter of trust and honesty.