Governments must do far more to include the needs of young people in the global fight against HIV and AIDS, according to a new report. Despite progress in tackling the disease, it is estimated that 1,700 new HIV infections occur every day among young people around the world, and the problem is particularly acute in Africa.
It is time policymakers recognized that HIV-positive adolescents face unique challenges, says the report from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, alongside the charity Sentebale.
Among the recommendations are that young people receive adequate psychosocial support; a human rights-based approach to testing and care, and finding ways to sensitively discuss sex and relationships for adolescents living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Professor Rashida Ferrand, who co-authored the research, says too many barriers are in place.
“We really need to be thinking about all the barriers at every step in that broad environment, both at facility level in clinics et cetera, but also recognizing the fact that most of the time young people do not spend in facilities. So, we have to think of modifying the environments and the barriers that those environments place,” Ferrand said.
Campaigners say many adolescents in Africa are unaware of their HIV status and are afraid to get tested.
‘Every single day I face stigma’
Twenty-three-year-old Masedi Kewamodimo was born with HIV. Both her parents died from AIDS. Growing up in her native Botswana, Masedi grew frustrated with the barriers she faced and decided to reveal her HIV status in order to campaign for better treatment.
“It is one of the most difficult things I have faced in my whole life. Every single day I face stigma. People talk about it because one they fear it; two, they assume certain people within our society have it; and three, they feel like they cannot welcome people who are living with HIV and AIDS,” Kewamodimo told VOA.
The charity Sentebale, which helped put together the policy recommendations, was co-founded by Prince Harry, who is newly engaged to American actress Meghan Markle. She has also campaigned on health issues in Africa.
Earlier this year, the prince chaired a meeting in London on adolescents with HIV, titled “Let Youth Lead,” and called for a change in global education on the disease.
“Young people, the first time they know of the first time they hear anything about HIV and AIDS is probably by the time it is too late. Whether it is in the education system here in the UK, whether it is across Africa, whether it is across the world, HIV needs to be treated exactly the same as any other disease,” Prince Harry said.
Campaigners hope the royal couple’s star power will help them spread the vital message that young people’s needs and fears must be addressed in the global drive to tackle HIV and AIDS.