MELBOURNE, Australia – Every hour, about 80 young people are newly infected with HIV, according to the recently released Gap Report by UNAIDS. And HIV is the second leading cause of death among adolescents, says the World Health Organization. The participation and leadership of young people will therefore be critical in bringing the global HIV epidemic to an end.
Today, at the 20th International AIDS Conference, UNFPA launched a youth networking zone called the ‘coolibah’, where young people will be able to speak with leaders in the field of HIV and AIDS.
“The coolibah is an Australian aboriginal name for a gum tree, whose expanse provides shade and thus a space for spontaneous conversations,” said Prateek Awasthi, a technical analyst at UNFPA.
Young people will be engaged on HIV and sexual and reproductive health issues, with a particular focus on young people living with HIV and young key populations.
Young people at risk
Although there has been much progress in addressing the HIV epidemic, young people remain especially at risk, and too many young people lack access to the sexual and reproductive health information and services that would empower them to protect themselves.
Young people aged 15-24 account for 29 per cent of of all new HIV infections, the latest Gap Report indicates.
“Failures to recognize, prioritize and invest in adolescents and their sexual and reproductive health have fatal consequences,” said the recent International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) global review report.
Silence is the greatest killer
Speaking at the launch of the coolibah, UNFPA Deputy Executive Director Kate Gilmore said the networking programme was a move to address three crucial issues facing young people: the lack of safe spaces where they can discuss their sexual and reproductive health; the lack of opportunities for youth to participate in and influence public policy; and the lack of opportunities for effective dialogue between young people and those who hold power.
“The greatest killer of all is not just the absence of life-saving drugs or only the absence of information, nor merely service providers who stigmatize when they should welcome,” she said. “The greatest killer of all is adults’ silence and their systematic cancelling-out, denying, of the human reality that the journey from childhood to adulthood is a journey of sexual and reproductive awakening and identity formation.”
The coolibah will be open daily throughout the week-long conference, and will feature interactive discussions, including networking lunches, with leaders and activists working to end the HIV epidemic.