Jamra primary scholl for children affected by HIV/AIDS, drugs or poverty, Senegal (c) Nell Freeman/Alliance Participants in the Photovioce project, Ecuador © Marcela Nievas for the Alliance
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Meet Jackie: an inspiring advocate for young women living with HIV


Aids Alliance

As Jacquelyne Alesi, Programmes Director for the Uganda Network of Young People Living with HIV, prepares to join thousands of delegates at the third International Conference on Family Planning, we find out what drives her to travel the world advocating for young women living with HIV.

“I was 17 years old when my baby died.  I thought that HIV...would not happen to me but I accepted I should be tested.  

“That was ten years ago.  Since I discovered my HIV status, I have mentored many other young people about the virus. I am proof that there is hope; you can come out of these things.  

“They can see that I’ve gone back to school, that I am happily married and that I have a child that is free from HIV.  They say ‘Jackie picked herself up and made a life for herself’.”

Jacquelyne joined the Uganda Network of Young People Living with HIV in September this year. She was previously Programmes Director of Uganda Young Positives.

As a network of organisations who work with young people in Uganda, they encourage networking between members; campaign for funding at the District level, train young people living with HIV to become leaders and advocates within their communities and provide information to other young people about HIV and SRHR.  They have an office in the Ministry of Gender and have representatives in all Districts of Uganda.

Jacquelyne is passionate about representing the views of young women living with HIV. She recently facilitated a number of community dialogues with young mothers living with HIV as part of a global youth consultation coordinated by the Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS and the ATHENA Network.  The consultation is part of the Link Up project - an ambitious, five country programme which aims to improve the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of more than one million young people living with and affected by HIV in Bangladesh, Burundi, Ethiopia, Myanmar and Uganda.

“The major problem the young women talked about was violence.  Many had been beaten and abandoned by their partner on disclosure of their status – even though most were in committed relationships and the pregnancies planned.

“All talked about the lack of counselling, information and advice following the birth of their babies and the discrimination of doctors and health workers who would see them as ‘taboo’ within their own communities - not only HIV positive, but also pregnant and with no partner.  The perception was that these women were useless.

“I heard how isolated they felt. Barely surviving – rejected by their families and friends – and with little or no means to feed and look after their children.”

Luckily Jacquelyne is now in a position to try to make a difference.  

“What I heard made me sad and determined to do something. Immediately I consulted with the directors of the organisations within the Network.  We established MindsUp – a telephone service to provide information about where to go for services, or report violence - which young women can call for confidential referrals and advice.  We hope to extend the service with face-to-face counsellors over time.

Under the umbrella of the Link Up project, Jacquelyne will be attending the International Conference on Family Planning being held in Ethiopia this month.

“I have reached a time where I want to share my experiences with the rest of the world – as a youth mentor and as a woman living with HIV.”

Jacquelyne has an impressive CV as a global youth advocate.  As well as her work for the Network, she represents young people on the National Forum of People Living with HIV Networks in Uganda, sits on Y+ (an initiative of the Global Network of People Living with HIV) and she is the Special Youth Observer to the UNAIDS Lancet Commission on global health.

She is also the focal person for the ATHENA Network in Uganda. It is through ATHENA, a global policy partner in the Link Up Project, that she has been given the opportunity to attend the Family Planning Conference.

“I hope I can be part of a new wave of leaders who are able to advocate for the sexual health needs of young people and help tackle the stigma which prevents them accessing the services they need.”

But ultimately it is the needs of young mothers living with HIV in Uganda that concerns Jacquelyne the most.  Asked what is the one thing she would like to do to secure the rights of access for young women to SRHR and HIV services, she is very clear.

“I would set up centres in every District for young women and young mothers living with HIV where they can meet safely.  A place where they could share their stories, support each other and work out solutions to their problems.  They would have easy access to advice on where to go for support when they need it.”

“If I die when that has happened, I will be very happy.”

Useful information:

  • Family planning and HIV for young peoplefacts and figures
  • The consultation findings from the GYCA and ATHENA network global youth consultation are being launched at the 2013 International Conference on Family Planning, in Ethiopia.
  • The Alliance, through the Link Up project, is organising a range of activities at the International Family Planning Conference.
  • Jacquelyne will also be speaking at the European Development Days in Brussels on 26 November at an event being organised by Action for Global Health, and at events in the UK around World AIDS Day, including a panel discussion organised by the Alliance at the London School of Economics entitled ‘Civil Society: Main Player or Optional Extra in Global Health’ and a parliamentary event organised by the All Party Parliamentary Group on HIV.
  • The next meeting of the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board in December (15-17th) is themed around HIV, Adolescents and Youth, and WHO are due to launch new guidance on anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment for adolescents in December.
  • The Policy and Advocacy Committee of the Alliance board of trustees which includes international leaders in HIV and SRHR such as Nafis Sadik (see her recent book Champion of Choice), is due to review a paper on working with adolescent key populations. This is to try to raise and address some of the ethical responsibility and duty of care issues that our Linking Organisations are facing in the provision of services to this age group.