Children and HIV and AIDS

Young people prepare to be heard at ‘AIDS 2006’ global conference

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© UNICEF/2006/Thomas
Young delegates at the AIDS 2006 Youth Pre-conference.

By Dan Thomas

TORONTO, Canada, 10 August 2006 – Young people will have more opportunity to influence the XVI International AIDS Conference (also known as ‘AIDS 2006’) than any of the previous gatherings, according to the organizers of the AIDS 2006 Youth Pre-conference.

More than 1,000 young people from 80 countries will join some 20,000 adult experts meeting in Toronto next week to discuss ways to stop the spread of HIV and AIDS.

The number of youth participants in the biennial event has grown steadily from only about 100 at AIDS 2002 in Barcelona and 450 at AIDS 2004 in Bangkok, speakers Beth Pelletieri and Maryanne Pribila told the opening session of the AIDS 2006 Youth Pre-conference today.

“Young people need a place at the table. We need to participate and we need to be there,” said Ms. Pelletieri of Advocates for Youth, an organization that works with young people on reproductive and sexual health issues.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF/2006/Thomas
Maryanne Pribila of Family Health International, a non-profit public health organization, addressing delegates to the AIDS 2006 Youth Pre-conference in Toronto, Canada.

Meaningful youth participation

According to the UNITE FOR CHILDREN  UNITE AGAINST AIDS campaign launched by UNICEF and its partners last October, young people aged 15 to 24 are bearing the brunt of the pandemic, and more than 10 million are infected with HIV.

“Young people are doing a lot to stop the spread of AIDS in their communities. It is important that they have a platform to raise these issues and to have a chance to discuss them with key policy- and decision-makers,” said Youth Pre-conference organizer Mila Gorokhovich of Toronto Youth Force.

Supported by UNFPA, UNAIDS, UNICEF, the Summit Foundation, UNESCO, CIDA, the MAC AIDS Fund and Levi’s, Toronto Youth Force was set up to promote meaningful youth participation at AIDS 2006.

“I came here to learn new scientific information about HIV and AIDS and also to learn from other youth what they are doing in their countries to fight the pandemic,” said Modesta Mlia, 24, who has travelled to Toronto from Blantyre, Malawi.

‘Time to Deliver’

The three-day Youth Pre-conference at the University of Toronto opened with an aboriginal healing song by Canadian performer Brenda McIntyre of the Odawa and Ojibwe nations. Attendees later broke into workshops to learn more and discuss ways to influence the conference.

“Currently, over half of new HIV infections are amongst young people, so if we are really serious about reducing the pandemic then we have to reduce new infections,” said UNICEF’s team leader on adolescent HIV prevention, Rick Olson. “The biggest challenge is to give young people the information, skills and access to services they need to be able to prevent themselves from being infected with HIV.”

AIDS 2006, which will begin on Sunday with speeches by Bill and Melinda Gates, is the largest AIDS meeting ever. The conference theme, ‘Time to Deliver’, underscores the urgency of effective HIV prevention, care and treatment as well as the need for increased accountability from individuals, governments, non-governmental organizations and UN agencies.


 

 

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10 August 2006:
UNICEF Correspondent Thomas Nybo reports on the AIDS 2006 Youth Pre-conference now under way in Toronto, Canada.
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