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South Africa

In South Africa, UNICEF and partners launch report on preventing HIV among young people

'Opportunity in Crisis' from early adolescence to young adulthood

By Kun Li

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, 2 June 2011 – In South Africa, the nation with the largest number of young people living with HIV, the destructive nature of the epidemic can be better understood than anywhere else in the world. According to a global report released here yesterday by UNICEF and its partners, one in three young people newly infected with the virus each year is from either South Africa or Nigeria.

VIDEO: 2 June 2011 - UNICEF's Kun Li reports from Johannesburg, South Africa on the launch of 'Opportunity in Crisis: Preventing HIV from early adolescence to young adulthood', a joint report produced by UNICEF and its partners.  Watch in RealPlayer


The report – ‘Opportunity in Crisis: Preventing HIV from early adolescence to young adulthood’ – confirms that young people worldwide face a significant risk of HIV infection every day. And their vulnerability is heightened by failures to provide them with adequate information and essential services.

“In 2009 alone, these realities, gaps and inefficiencies in response translated to an estimated 890,000 new infections among young people worldwide,” said UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa Elhadj As Sy.

© UNICEF South Africa/2011/Kun Li
In Johannesburg, South Africa, youth participants gather for launch of 'Opportunity in Crisis', the joint global report on youth and HIV prevention.

Opportunities for youth

For the young men and women of ‘loveLife’, South Africa’s largest national prevention initiative for youth, HIV is a central fact of life and work. To ensure that peers in their communities have the information needed to protect themselves, they engage in face-to-face interaction and mass media campaigns. They also produce dramas and radio shows, and organize debates on youth and HIV.

Young activists from loveLife participated in a panel discussion at the launch of ‘Opportunity in Crisis’ along with representatives of the partners who jointly produced the report – including UNICEF, UNAIDS, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the UN Population Fund, the International Labour Organization, the World Health Organization and the World Bank.

“We need to create opportunities for young people,” said one youth panellist. “If I am a young person who doesn’t work but still have to be a breadwinner at home, it will be very easy for me to submit to peer pressure, to date a sugar daddy and to do all the things that will lead me to be at risk of HIV infection.”

© UNICEF South Africa/2011/Kun Li
Panellists at 'Opportunity in Crisis' launch in South Africa (from left): Elhadj As Sy, UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa; Nicola Willis, Director, Africaid Zimbabwe; Dr. N. Dlamini, Director, Prevention Strategies, South African Department of Health; Shumikazi Kwinana, Director of Field Services, loveLife; and Rayhana Rassool, Senior Campaigns Manager, Soul City.

Progress on prevention

Despite such challenges, ‘Opportunity in Crisis’ acknowledges that some progress has been made in preventing new infections among young people. In many high-burden countries, HIV prevalence and incidence have declined.

While in 2001 there were 5.7 million young people living with HIV worldwide, the figure now stands at approximately 5 million. Nevertheless, the actual reduction – 12 per cent – represents less than half the 25 per cent target set by world leaders a decade ago.
Moreover, African youth, and especially young women in Africa, are the most vulnerable in the battle against HIV.

“The grim picture, particularly the harsh reality faced by African youth, should exhort us all to take a pause and reflect on the commitments that were promised to ensure safe passage to a healthy and productive adulthood,” said Mr. Sy. “Prevention of new infections requires much more commitment from families, teachers and leaders to establish a safe and protective environment for the most vulnerable, especially the girls.”

Package of interventions

Participants in the report’s launch pointed out that reducing the number of new infections will require greater attention to prevention, care and support for adolescents and young people at risk. They pointed out, as well, that the world now knows what really works to prevent HIV transmission in young people. This package of interventions includes:

  • Abstaining from sex and not injecting drugs
  • Correct and consistent use of male and female condoms
  • Medical male circumcision
  • Needle and syringe exchange programmes as part of a comprehensive harm-reduction programme
  • Using antiretroviral drugs as treatment (which lowers the chance of transmission) or as post-exposure prevention
  • And communication for social and behavioural change.
© UNICEF South Africa/2011/Kun Li
Audience and panel at the Johannesburg, South Africa launch of 'Opportunity in Crisis', the joint global report on youth and HIV.

On the last point in particular, young people themselves are key to the success of prevention efforts. In the process of becoming peer educators like the loveLife activists, they can also build self-confidence and acquire new skills.

‘Making a difference’

“I didn’t know I love radio, but now it has become my favourite thing in the world,” said Xolani Khoza, 19, a radio producer working with loveLife in Orange Farm, an impoverished neighbourhood near Johannesburg.

“Around 400 kids come to our youth centre every day after school just to listen to our shows. Our show doesn’t only educate them on important issues such as teenage pregnancy but all the other issues affecting their lives,” Xolani added.

“I was very shy before,” said Kedibone Segonote, 19, another peer educator. “After meeting and talking to many young people since I joined loveLife, I have gained much confidence and feel that I am really making a difference in their lives.”



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