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Young HIV/AIDS Activists Demand Respect and Resources

  • Joe DeCapua

At the 18th International AIDS Conference in Vienna, young people spoke out about how they’re affected by the pandemic and what they’re doing about it.

The speakers - all in their 20s - have never known a world without HIV/AIDS. The pandemic is 30 years old. At AIDS 2010, they had a message for those of the older generation: Treat us with respect – and give us the resources and responsibility to make a difference.

“There’s age stigma and discrimination and stereotypes. What we can call ageism, where adults are saying a young person is too young. You’re so irresponsible. You cannot do this,” says Remmy Shawa.

Remmy Shawa

Remmy Shawa

Shawa is part of a U.N. youth program and who started a men and gender program at the University of Zambia. He says the HIV/AIDS youth movement poses no threat to the establishment.

“We should not think of this movement as a way of taking over from the established leaders and abolishing everything that they’re doing. I think it’s a partnership we are fighting for. That we should learn from adults and established leaders and they should learn from us as well. So that we can implement. We can plan. We can deliver together.”

Don’t judge us

Chantale Kallas of Lebanon says young people need mentors and counselors who are non-judgmental.

“I’ve been working with young people who use drugs. And I have seen people working with them with the judgment and the stereotype in their head the whole time. This is not human rights based,” she says.

Chantale Kallas

Chantale Kallas

Kallas is regional coordinator for the group Youth Rise. She says often, before young people get involved in large treatment or prevention programs, they simply need the basics.

“At the end of the day,” she says, “what these young people are asking for is sometimes only food and shelter. So we should be able to give them these resources before starting to talk about more things and more complicated resources.”

Catlin Chandler of the United States is coordinator of the HIV Youth Leaders Fund. She says 40 percent of new HIV infections occur among young people. But she says donors often don’t have a clear strategy of how to deal with it.

“Often, we see that donors allocate large amounts of money, especially in HIV prevention, to what they think is a sexy, multi-media way of reaching young people. I’m talking about campaigns like LoveLife in South Africa. There’s a new one every day,” she says.

Caitlin Chandler

Caitlin Chandler

She adds, “Most of these campaigns never reach the young people who are most in need of prevention services and information. If diverse youth populations were actually involved in the development of HIV prevention campaigns, imagine how different the results could be.”

What, no tweets?

Chandler outlines what youth need to succeed.

"Donors need to realize that young people need more than Twitter campaigns and social media sites to live healthy lives. They need access to clean needles. They need sexual and reproductive health services that are nondiscriminatory. They need protection from police. They need the space in which to make informed choices. And they also need funding to advocate for their own needs,” she says.

Sydney Hushie of Ghana says while youth are demanding more responsibility and resources, they must also be willing to be accountable for their actions.

Sydney Hushie

Sydney Hushie

“If we as young people demand accountability from adults, our government and all the other people that we look up to, we should first look at being accountable to ourselves as young people – and also to the constituency that gave us the legitimacy that we have as young people to do what we do,” he says. Hushie is program coordinator for the Global Youth Coalition on HIV and AIDS in Accra.

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