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Young people lead HIV prevention revolution: AU
Francis Rwodzi

April 14, 2011

Young people are leading the prevention revolution by increasingly acting to protect themselves from HIV said the African Union (AU) during the pre-summit African Youth Forum that was held at the AU Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia last week.

The "prevention revolution" is a global commitment by UNAIDS and its co-sponsors to galvanize leaderships at all levels, communities and all key stakeholders and development partners to halt the HIV epidemic-the ultimate vision is zero new infections , zero discrimination and zero deaths.

The revolution requires greatly intensified efforts to address the needs of all those at risk of infection, and of everyone living with HIV, with quality, scaled up programmes based on evidence of what works.

The AU said that only by stemming the tide of new HIV infections can those already HIV positive be assured life-time care, treatment and support and efforts are targeted at those countries and populations where the most new infections are occurring, especially the high prevalence countries in eastern and southern Africa.

Statistics released by the AU revealed that although there were 1.8 million new HIV infections in sub Saharan Africa during 2009, 22 countries reported a prevalence decline of more than 25 percent. The statistics showed that the number of young people living with HIV is falling in 13 African countries, a tremendous achievement on which African government can build on.

The high burden countries that have achieved a 25 percent reduction in HIV prevalence among young people by 2010 were Zimbabwe, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Cote d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Botswana, Tanzania, Zambia and South Africa while Burundi, Lesotho and Rwanda achieved some decline but was below the 25 percent mark.

The AU said new infections are declining in young people because they are changing their sexual behavior. Young women and men are waiting longer to become sexually active, have fewer partners, and are increasingly using condoms and greater numbers are learning their HIV status. In many high prevalence countries, more young men are also opting for circumcision.

According to the Population Reference Bureau (2006), young people 10-24 comprised over one-quarter of the world's population in 2006, some 1.8 billion people, of whom 305 million lived in Africa. This figure is projected to rise to 424 million by 2025 comprising the largest cohort of young people ever.

The AU says while Africa can benefit from this demographic dividend, the large number of young people poses a challenge for the Millennium Development Goals (MDG's), including MDG 6 on HIV and Aids, TB and Malaria. It said that drastic actions were needed to empower young people to protect themselves from HIV and AIDS.

The UNAIDS strategy 2011-2015, 'Getting to Zero' commits to halving new infections by 2015. The East African and SADC communities, regions with the most new HIV infections, have also committed to halving new infections by 2015 and to virtual elimination of mother to child HIV transmission. Young people are an essential part of this commitment, both as active participants and as people at risk, statistics say that around 40 percent of new infections globally in 2009 were in young people.

The AU said that there is no room for complacency as young people continue to carry a heavy HIV burden. Nearly 4 million HIV positive young people live in sub-Saharan Africa, 80 percent of the world total most of these are young women. Up to 8 young women 15-24 age group are HIV positive for every male in that age range according to UNAIDS.

Despite the heavy HIV burden, most young people still have no access to adequate, age appropriate and effective sexuality education including HIV prevention within the school systems or community. They also lack sufficient access to and uptake of quality HIV testing and counseling and linked support services, including youth and gender friendly sexual and reproductive services, and male and female condoms.

The way forward is to provide young women and men with effective, age-appropriate, rights-based sexuality education and programme effective social and behavior change strategies so that young people and adults have comprehensive knowledge of HIV and understand and act on their own risk, the AU said.

It also emphasized the need to scale up and increase uptake of quality HIV testing and counseling, condom access, and youth and gender friendly sexual and reproductive health services including antenatal care and PMTCT.

It also stressed the need to understand where new infections are occurring, support young people's leadership and involvement in national HIV prevention responses, ensure resource provisions for young people's programmes, address gender based violence and develop strategies and support services to mitigate its impact.

The AU also said that state parties should include youth programming in all relevant national development frameworks and strategies, ensure implementation of laws, policies and other commitments aimed at youth development, strengthen the inter-sectoral coordination and collaboration of national youth-serving institutions and to generate and use age and sex disaggregated data on young people in programmes and policies.

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