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31 March 2005: Young People and HIV/AIDS

Maria Calivis: CIS Ministerial Meeting – Moscow 1st April 2005

Session II: “Addressing the HIV epidemic among Young people”

Ladies and gentlemen, this discussion is central to the HIV/AIDS debate, for the epidemic will not be overcome until young people are able to protect themselves and others.

I would like to raise three key points on the epidemic in our region.

First, we must move fast to tackle one of the steepest increases in the spread of HIV/AIDS worldwide. In 2004 there were an estimated 1.4 million people living with HIV in this region -- a 40% increase since 2002.

Second, action has to focus on young people. HIV has a young face in our region, where more than 80% of those infected have not yet turned 30.

And third, young people should be seen as the solution, not the problem. Their fate will determine whether we win or lose on HIV/AIDS. 

So, what must we do to turn the tide?

We must address the stigma that allows HIV to spread and stops people getting the help they need. Right now, those who are the most vulnerable – particularly young people – are the least likely to have the information or services they need to prevent HIV infection.

We need to listen to young people and open doors for their participation.

We must tackle the increasing burden that the epidemic is placing on young women and girls across the region - the number of women living with HIV increased by 48% between 2002 and 2004 – many of these women are under 25 years of age.

We must address the underlying problems that make young people so vulnerable: poverty, unemployment and lack of hope. These are the lifeblood of trafficking and of the drug trade. Both consume young people each day and, in turn, feed the HIV epidemic.

We need to listen to young people and open doors for their participation.

We need to build on what we know. We know, for example, that knowledge alone does not guarantee healthy behaviour. Young people need to see that HIV/AIDS is not something that happens to somebody else. It threatens their lives, the lives of their friends and – very importantly – the lives of their own children.

There are around 15,000 children born to HIV-infected mothers in the Russian Federation, most of them born in the last three years. Up to 20 per cent were abandoned at birth and almost one third of those are growing up in hospitals, regardless of their own HIV status. They have inherited the stigma of HIV and – infected or not – it may destroy their lives more surely than HIV itself.

We need to build on what works. We know how to spread the word in schools, and how to build adolescent-friendly health services. And we know that those at risk are more likely to use services that are run with them, not for them.

There is not one country in the region where prevention activities – information, education and services – have reached the scale needed to halt the epidemic.

Ladies and gentlemen: the region’s young people have the right to know about HIV/AIDS. This was endorsed by your governments at the UN Special Session on HIV/AIDS in 2001 and at the Irish EU Presidency Conference on HIV/AIDS in Europe and Central Asia in Dublin last year.

They pledged to ensure that, by 2005, 90 per cent of young people would have access to information on HIV/AIDS. But today, millions of young people in our region know little or nothing about HIV/AIDS.

There is not one country in the region where prevention activities – information, education and services – have reached the scale needed to halt the epidemic.

UNICEF is doing its part to tackle this health crisis. We aim to ensure that by 2010 at least 95 per cent of those aged 10-18 have access to the information, education and services they need to protect themselves. We support life-skills based education to give young people the skills that can protect them against infection. We support youth-friendly services, including voluntary counselling and testing. We target those at greatest risk, and we work with them to build effective programmes. UNICEF is also providing critical assistance to governments across the region to scale-up national efforts to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

In 2004, young people helped to develop National HIV/AIDS Plans in Albania, Serbia and Montenegro and – in the CIS – in Tajikistan and Ukraine. In Ukraine we ensured that 300 vulnerable young people, including injecting drug users, those living with HIV and street children, were part of this process.

This is a question of resources – in other words, priorities. And decisions about those priorities rest with our leaders.

Our goal is to take HIV prevention to scale. In Moldova, for example, the Ministry of Education and Science and the World Bank have integrated the UNICEF-supported life skills based education initiative into the national curriculum.

So, things are happening, often at local level. Such efforts must now be matched at the national, regional and global levels. This is a question of resources – in other words, priorities. And decisions about those priorities rest with our leaders.

While political commitment to the global AIDS response has grown since the 2001 Special Session, there is still a long way to go. Energetic, exceptional and sustained leadership is vital in a region that has the chance to halt the epidemic in its tracks. But the window of opportunity is closing.

HIV/AIDS is a threat to national development and to our chances of achieving the Millennium Development Goals.  These goals are interlinked – if we do not bring HIV under control, we undermine any hope of reaching any of the MDGs.

HIV represents an exceptional threat to global well-being. By targeting young people, HIV unleashes a chain of events that can, if unchecked, unravel an entire society. It is an exceptional problem, and it demands an exceptional response. So, UNICEF’s challenge to this CIS Ministerial Meeting is simple. What are you going to do, after this meeting, that will be different – that will be exceptional? 

Thank you.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Angela Hawke, Communication Officer, tel: (+4122) 909 5433, e-mail ahawke@unicef.org

 

 
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