World AIDS Day – a focus on adolescents

This World AIDS Day (1 December 2014) we are warning of the urgent need to prioritise HIV and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents, particularly in the global south where they are slipping through the cracks when it comes to healthcare. 

The RNJ+ youth centre is a safe space for young peoplePacifique, 20, (second from right) was born with HIV but didn’t find out his status until he was ten years old. “My mum refused to disclose my status to me. She told me I had a heart problem but that I would get better. When I first found out, I thought I was someone who won’t live for very long. I thought I couldn’t even get married, I was just here waiting for my death,” he said.

There are an estimated 2.1 million adolescents living with HIV, with more than 80% of them living in sub-Saharan Africa. Many don’t know their HIV status.

The Alliance, together with a consortium of international and national non-governmental organisations, is currently spearheading an ambitious three year country programme – Link Up - which aims to improve the sexual and reproductive health and rights of more than a million young people aged 24 and under who are living with and affected by HIV in Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Burundi, Myanmar and Uganda.

In Burundi, where Pacifique is from, more than half of the population is under 17. Link Up is focusing on young people living with HIV, young men who have sex with men and young women who sell sex and aims to reach 175,000 young people and adolescents with tailored HIV and sexual and reproductive health services that reflect their specific circumstances. 

A safe space

Earlier this year, with support from Link Up, community organisation RNJ+ launched a new youth centre in Bujumbura offering services including counselling and testing to support these vulnerable groups to get better education on HIV, sexual health and contraception.  It is the first youth-led centre of its kind in Burundi, providing a safe space in a conservative and religious society.

Initially bullied at school for his HIV status, Pacifique can be himself at the youth centre.  “RNJ+ is my second family.  It’s where I can meet young people who share the same views, who have the same way of seeing the world, and they’re the ones who support me.”

Executive Director, Cedric Nininahazwe, 27, has known Pacifique and many of its other 400+ members for years. He too recalls how “I felt safe when I joined RNJ+”.

Cedric and his sister Nadia were orphaned when Cedric was 11. Both parents died from HIV-related illnesses, and Cedric would later find out that he was born with HIV at age 15, and his sister would test positive at age 25.

All three are contributing to a HIV free future, and in doing so showing what’s possible when you engage people who are most affected by HIV. Pacifique is the director of a theatre group which raises awareness of HIV and related issues within the community, and Nadia, supported by Link Up, has initiated a female condom project which will initially benefit young women living with HIV and sex workers.

To invest in our work with young people and other people most affected by HIV, you can donate here.

Cell Survivor

Globally, the majority of new HIV infections are among young people which is why engaging young people in the HIV response and reducing stigma is critical to halting the epidemic.

Screengrab from Cell SurvivorWith this in mind we have developed Cell Survivor in conjunction with Developing Dreams to mark World AIDS Day. This original online game is intended to engage new audiences with some of the issues that adolescents living with HIV in the global south face.

Aimed primarily at young gaming enthusiasts, the aim of the game is to help protect a single CD4 cell from pathogens including the HIV virus. The final level challenges gamers to survive without condoms or antiretroviral tablets, which is the reality for many young people living with HIV around the world who do not have access to such life-saving support.

 Read more about the game here, and play at http://cellsurvivor.org

Related links

•    Read our World AIDS press release: Adolescents slipping through the cracks when it comes to HIV
•    Hear more about Pacifique and Cedric: Improving sexual health – one table football match at a time
•    Read more about Nadia’s motivations for the female condom project: More choices for women