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China’s Youth Ambassadors raise HIV awareness, online and in the community

© UNICEF CHINA/Zhang Nan/2007
One of China’s AIDS Youth Ambassador reads stories to children as part of a UNICEF-sponsored programme to improve young people’s knowledge of the disease and reduce AIDS stigma and discrimination.

By Lei Zhang & Ken Legins

BEIJING, China, 28 February 2008 – China’s Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS campaign website was recently honoured as one of the country’s Leading Websites of the Year. The award recognizes young people in China who are battling HIV/AIDS through Internet awareness and messages of prevention.

The website, which is managed by China’s Youth League with support from UNICEF, is the only youth-oriented site among the 25 on the winners’ list.

The annual Leading Website awards are jointly sponsored by China’s State Council Press Office and the Chinese Internet Association. Recipients are selected through online voting and a final review by an expert panel. Sites are assessed on the basis of their “positive, healthy, dynamic and unique” content, and their impact on Internet users.

Learning and sharing facts about AIDS

Since its launch in 2006 to support China’s campaign on young people and AIDS, the Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS Chinese website has served as a primary online information-sharing tool for the campaign’s Youth Ambassadors. Members of this active group of young leaders have demonstrated a commitment to learn and share the facts about HIV and AIDS, and to care for those affected by AIDS.

The website has generated a surge of interest from young people seeking peer support for AIDS prevention and treatment.

“The idea is not to teach someone something. It is about setting up a communication platform of our own,” said Youth Ambassador Li Tong. “Many 14- and 15-year-olds have had unprotected sex before learning the facts on AIDS, and I want to change that.”

In a telephone interview with UNICEF Radio, two other Youth Ambassadors explained the roles they have played in creating and refining the AIDS campaign site.

“I not only participated in the design of the website’s major modules,” said Lily Wang, “but also posted my knowledge, skills, experience and stories of raising HIV/AIDS awareness on online discussion forums and weblogs.” Her goal is to reach “many more young people who want to do something about AIDS,” she added.

“We give suggestions to UNICEF,” said Nan Zhang. “Together, we discuss how to improve the website and make it more appealing to young people.”

Youth as ‘a force for change’

There are currently an estimated 650,000 people living with HIV in China – a statistic that suggests the importance of education as a leading strategy for AIDS prevention.

“Promoting young people’s active engagement in changing risky behaviour patterns will be critical in halting the spread of HIV in China. We need to see many more youth committed to becoming a force for change,” said UNICEF’s Representative in China, Dr. Yin Yin Nwe.

Dr. Nwe sees the web as a critical tool for reaching children and adolescents in China, where the number of Internet users now exceeds 210 million.

“The Internet is fast becoming a major information source and platform of exchange for young people, in both urban and rural areas,” she said. “We must ensure that the correct information on AIDS is shared with young people, and shared in an easy-to-understand, youth-friendly and creative way. Nothing does it better than the Internet.”

Tim Ledwith contributed to this story from New York.





27 February 2008:
Youth Ambassadors Nan Zhang and Lily Wang, both 22, talk to UNICEF Radio about their work on China’s award-winning AIDS campaign website.
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