The youth are a key population as far as HIV infection and treatment is concerned
By Annet Nakibuuka
KAMPALA - August 12 is International Youth day and Ugandans, this is a big day for us to appreciate the role of the youth in the struggle against HIV/AIDS.
Since the youth contribute a remarkable percentage the population, they are a group with whom we can fight the pandemic if proper awareness is done.
This day set to raise awareness about the situation of youths in the countries and began in 2000, was instituted by the United Nations to celebrate the contribution young people make in education, employment, health, conflict resolution and social justice among others.
‘Safe spaces for youth’ is this year’s theme. Here, youths are assured of dignity and safety. Unfortunately, these cannot be achieved if HIV is all over the said spaces.
Consequently, unless we fight the scourge, youth coming together, being able to engage in activities related to their diverse needs and interests, participating in decision making processes and freely expressing themselves is a lifetime dream.
As we partner with the United Nations to commemorate this day, focusing on the sixth Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of combating HIV/AIDS and reverse its spread, particularly among the youth is paramount.
The youth are a key population as far as HIV infection and treatment is concerned. The February 23 2017 United Nations Press Release on HIV Situation in Uganda, indicated that young people, especially girls aged between 15 and 24, are disproportionately affected by HIV infection.
It further showed that in Uganda, two young women get infected with HIV in every single hour.
The report, a follow up on the UNAIDS Global Review Mission to Uganda 2017 further explains that the HIV prevalence among adolescent girls in the country stands at 9.1%, compared to the national prevalence rate of 7.3%.
These need much help if we are to achieve an AIDS Free Generation 2030. UNAIDS reports that young people are central in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
For this reason, efforts against HIV/AIDS, be it policies or programs, should target young people, the reason Uganda’s presidential fast track initiative to end HIV/AIDS by 2030 fronts young women and men.
According to a 2017 study ‘HIV prevalence and uptake of HIV/AIDS services among youths (15–24 Years) in fishing and neighboring communities of Kasensero, Rakai district, South Western Uganda’ by Richardson Mafigiri and others, the prevalence of HIV is higher especially among young females and in landing site communities than in the peripheral communities.
Also, uptake of HIV prevention and treatment services is very low thus an urgent need for youth-friendly services in these communities.
A 2002 UNICEF report indicated that young people getting infected with HIV are generally those engaging in high risk behaviors such as injecting drugs, commercial sex, and male-to-male sex.
Youth can be engaged at different levels in efforts to decampaign such behaviours.
For those not yet infected, duty bearers should set and involve youth in programs that delay sexual activity, promote abstinence, reduction of partners and reduce risky behaviors such as sex without condoms and injecting drugs.
Youth must engage in provision of information to young people through life skills and health and sexuality education in schools and other informal settings, television, radio and other mass media campaigns, including popular theater and other culturally-appropriate means that appeal to youth.
In Uganda, youth have responded to the struggle through a number of songs, drama activities, poems, graphics and talk shows.
HIV/AIDS awareness music by Pastor Wilson Bugembe, Robert Kyagulanyi (a.k.a Bobi Wine), Rehema Namakula and legendary Philly Bongole Lutaaya (R.I.P) among others is worth noting.
In addition, high-quality health services tailored to the specific needs of young people and reaching them in their communities and through other informal channels ought to be provided.
These can be inform of subsidized social marketing of condoms, programs that reach young people at their places of work and through private channels such as pharmacies and for-profit medical services, where many youth prefer seeking care.
Also, volunteers can run community-based programs, for example those that distribute condoms and voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) for HIV. The latter is credited for promoting safe sex and increasing the use of care and support services among youths.
Females who are sexually active can carry along the preventive strategy-Elimination of Mother-to-Child Transmission.
Therefore, as we look forward to achieving an AIDS Free Generation 2030, let us involve young people because HIV policies and programs like PEPFAR (US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief).
This provide funding for treatment in the country’s efforts to end AIDS by 2030. Programs are more effective when young people are involved in all aspects of design, implementation, and evaluation.
The writer is a Fellow at the National Forum of People Living with HIV Networks in Uganda.