“We are the solution, not the problem” say young participants at Bangkok AIDS Conference
BANGKOK, 13 July 2004 – Young people at the XV International AIDS Conference here this week told leaders that HIV/AIDS is spiraling out of control because the global response to date has disregarded the rights and concerns of young people.
Demanding to be recognized and involved as true partners, nearly 40 young participants presented UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy with a shortlist of conditions they say must be set in place to help them make the choices they need to stay HIV-free.
Young people stressed the need for safe, supportive environments, access to services, testing and treatment, as well as the information, knowledge and skills they need to prevent HIV infection and lead healthy lives. Their demands emerged from a series of UNICEF-supported youth consultations in 14 countries across six regions prior to the Bangkok AIDS Conference.
“Instead of endlessly telling us what to do and how to do it, adults should listen to young people. They should give us the biggest say in what we need to protect ourselves from infection,” said Patcharin Khamjan, a participant from Thailand. “The fact that young people have been left out so far is the reason we are losing against HIV. Ignoring us is a big mistake.”
“Despite the fact that young people are disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS --and the fact that they are more likely than adults to adopt and maintain safe behaviours – they are routinely disregarded when strategies on HIV/AIDS are drafted, policies made and budgets allocated,” Bellamy said.
Young people are at the epicenter of the epidemic. More than half the estimated 14,000 people newly infected each day are under 25 years old. In sub-Saharan Africa, the region most affected, three-quarters of all young people living with HIV are girls and young women. Most infections are transmitted through sexual contact.
However, in countries with new and emerging epidemics, boys and young men are worst affected; in Central and Eastern Europe and the Baltic States, around 80 per cent of young people reported to be living with HIV are boys and young men. The primary mode of transmission is through injecting drug use.
Most young people also become sexually active in their teens. Although the majority of young people have heard of AIDS, many do not know how it is transmitted, and continue to have serious misconceptions. Most young people do not perceive themselves to be at risk, and the overwhelming majority who are HIV-positive do not know their HIV status.
Many of the countries with the highest HIV prevalence rates also have very young populations, creating a perilous convergence that deepens the epidemic’s impact. Across sub-Saharan Africa, for example, more than half the population is estimated to be under the age of 18.
“Both young women and men are vulnerable to HIV infection when they have limited access to information, knowledge, services and care,” Bellamy said. Those forced to live on the social and economic margins – commercial sex workers, and injecting drug users - are at especially high risk for contracting HIV. And when young people already living with HIV fall ill, they generally have little or no access to care or life-prolonging drugs, Bellamy said.
The findings of the youth consultations supported by UNICEF are compiled in a preliminary report that UNICEF issued today. Young People Speak Out --
Meeting our Rights to HIV Prevention and Care outlines what needs to be done to enable young people to live healthy lives. The report makes clear that young people are motivated and eager to engage in the fight against AIDS and that, given a voice, they contribute vital information to guide policy and decision-making.
“Preventing new infections, particularly among young people, must remain the lynch pin of the global response,” Bellamy said. “Only when all those working to address the pandemic – governments, NGOs, civil society and faith-based organizations and others – join in true partnership with young people, will we begin to reverse the trajectory of HIV/AIDS.”
For more information, please contact:
Susan Curran, UNICEF, 01 906 0813
Liza Barrie, UNICEF, 07 902 9944; US mobile 1-646 207-5178
Marixie Mercado, UNICEF, 07 906 5544; US mobile 1-917 640-0184