Children in the spotlight in the lead-up to the XVII International AIDS Conference
By Thomas Nybo
MEXICO CITY, Mexico, 4 August 2008 – Children took the spotlight in the days leading up to the 17th International AIDS Conference in Mexico City this year. This year's conference is marked by over 300 side events. UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman is poised to speak at a satellite session on Monday night entitled, 'Keeping the promise: Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS'.
Among the events focusing on HIV, AIDS and children were a pre-conference youth forum attended by young people from around the world, as well as a symposium on 'Children and AIDS', which brought together a wide range of experts and policy makers.
The head of UNICEF's HIV and AIDS section, Jimmy Kolker, chaired a panel at the symposium on how to face the challenges of government leadership surrounding children and AIDS. Mr. Kolker explained why panels such as this one have been of vital importance.
Placing children on the AIDS agenda
“To put AIDS on the agenda, to put children on the agenda, to show decision-makers what can and should be done about AIDS,” he said. “Those are very difficult, very time-consuming and sometimes very challenging tasks.”
Mr. Kolker noted that people have been paying attention to the evidence and economic data discussed through these symposiums and, in turn, children are increasingly on the agenda.
However, he also pointed to what he called “a missing component,” asking, “How do we use that evidence, how do we use that data, and translate that into public policy?”
Reaching youth through personal narratives
Daniel Yang, a 22-year-old AIDS activist from the United States, emerged as one of the more vocal participants of the youth forum. He spoke about how many people his age feel bombarded with statistics that lack a human face.
“I feel like we're really overwhelmed with statistics, overwhelmed with numbers. As a result, we're suffering this epidemic of compassion fatigue,” Daniel said. “We're always hearing these numbers and to a certain extent, they no longer mean anything to us.”
Daniel said his generation is better reached through personal narratives, such as a well-told story of how one child is being affected by AIDS.
“How is AIDS affecting their family? How is it affecting their school? From there, we can begin to understand how one person is being affected,” he said. “Now we try to extrapolate – how are 40 million people being affected?”
The XVII International AIDS Conference, a biennial event, opened 3 August and runs through 8 August in Mexico City.
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