Young people are at the centre of the global HIV/AIDS pandemic. They are also the world’s greatest hope in tackling this human immunodeficiency virus.

An estimated 11.8 million young people aged 15 to 24 are living with HIV/AIDS. Each day, nearly 6,000 young people between the ages of 15 and 24 become infected with HIV. Yet only a fraction of them know they are infected.

More than two decades into the epidemic and most young people remain uninformed about sex, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV/AIDS. Although most young people have heard about HIV & Aids, they lack the basic knowledge of how it can be contracted and spread and they simply do not believe that they are at risk, which in the long run causes more issues. The young people who have been exposed to education around this topic still often do not take measures to protect themselves as they fear judgement (when seeking contraception) or lack the support or the means to adopt safe behaviours. 

Nonetheless, in areas where the spread of HIV/AIDS is subsiding or even declining, it is primarily because young men and women are being given the tools and the incentives to adopt safe behaviours. Young people have demonstrated that they are capable of making responsible choices to protect themselves when provided such support, and that they can educate and motivate others to make safe choices.

We know what works and what needs to be done. 

Educating young people about HIV, and teaching them skills in negotiation, conflict resolution, critical thinking, decision-making and communication, improves their self-confidence and ability to make informed choices, such as postponing sex until they are mature enough to protect themselves from HIV, other STIs and unwanted pregnancies.

Youth-friendly services offer treatment for STIs and access to condoms and help young people become responsible for their sexual and reproductive health. Voluntary and confidential HIV counselling and testing services allow young people to determine their decisions. 

All this requires strong leadership. The issues surrounding HIV/AIDS are deeply embedded in cultural and social beliefs and practices, many of them intimate, personal and private. Leadership means having the courage to meet the sexual and reproductive health needs of young people. It means working with young people to 

create an environment in which HIV & AIDS is not discussed in secrecy and shame, but openly and with compassion.

Young people are our greatest opportunity to defeat HIV/AIDS.

Possible strategic factors to reduce on the spread of HIV among young people.

  1. End silence, stigma and shame 

Young people should be supported to have the courage to speak openly and without judgement about anything but specifically adolescent sexuality, abuse and violence against girls and women. However, the fear of stigma and deep-rooted discrimination makes young people less likely to adopt preventive strategies such as using condoms, seeking testing for HIV and other STIs, adhering to treatment or disclosing their HIV status to sexual partners. 

National and community leadership must break the silence, challenge the stigma and eliminate the shame associated with HIV/AIDS. Parents, presidents, prime ministers, youth leaders, entertainers, social media icons and sport professionals all have a duty to advocate this. 

  1. Provide young people with enough information and knowledge about HIV 

Young people cannot protect themselves if they do not know the facts about HIV/AIDS. Adolescents must learn the facts before they become sexually active, and the information needs to be regularly reinforced and built on, both in the classroom and beyond. A basic education of good quality for all children, offering sound knowledge about sex and HIV/Aids is essential. 

Unfortunately, many adults fear that informing young adolescents about sex and teaching them how to protect themselves will make them sexually active. In surveys, at least 40 per cent of adults felt that children aged 12 to 14 should not be taught to use condoms. But a review of more than 50 sex education programmes around the world found that young people are more likely to delay starting their sexual activity when they are provided with correct information about sexual and reproductive health. And when they do start having sex, they are more likely to protect themselves against unwanted pregnancy and STIs including HIV.

It is also essential to reach young people before they engage in high-risk behaviours, including drug and alcohol use. Information on HIV/AIDS and reproductive health, as well as life skills, should be integrated into primary school curriculum and offered throughout the school years.

All sectors of society must be mobilized to reach young people out of school. Programmes that enable young people to develop a range of skills including literacy & numeracy and technical, entrepreneurial, practical and managerial skills can also provide reproductive health education for the most excluded children, including young mothers at home, children living on the street and working children.

Parents, community and religious leaders need to recognize the importance of their own roles in providing life-saving information and skills.

  1. Equip young people with life skills & knowledge into practice 

Behaviour is not changed by knowledge alone. Young people need skills to put what they learn into practice. Life skills. Skills in negotiation, conflict resolution, critical thinking, decision making and communication are vital for young people. These skills help boys and girls learn to relate to one another as equals, work in groups, build self-esteem, resolve disagreements peacefully and resist both peer and adult pressure to take unnecessary risks. 

  1. Provide youth friendly health services 

Youth-friendly health services can be free-standing clinics or attached to existing clinics or recreational facilities. Ideally, they provide a full range of services and information to young people and are welcoming, confidential, conveniently located and affordable. The staff members do not patronize or lecture young people and give them plenty of time to talk whilst they listen and offer professional advice.

The services to help prevent HIV and other STIs include access to condoms and voluntary counselling and testing for HIV. Although there is Prep, it is not available in Eastern region of Uganda. 

For young women who are pregnant and HIV positive, the clinics provide information and services to help them avoid transmitting HIV to their infants.

  1. Promote voluntary and confidential HIV counselling and testing

Nine out of 10 people are living with HIV/AIDS but do not know they are infected. Yet studies have shown that young people have a strong interest in knowing their HIV status. 90 per cent of people surveyed in Uganda, indicated that they would like to be tested while still healthy.

Voluntary and confidential HIV counselling and testing (VCT) is an important tool for preventing HIV. VCT allows adolescents to evaluate their behaviour and its consequences. A negative test result offers a key opportunity to reinforce the importance of safety and risk-reduction behaviours. Young people who test HIV positive must receive referrals for care and opportunities to talk to professionals who can help them understand what their HIV status means and the responsibilities they have to themselves and others as a result. Young women who are pregnant and test HIV positive should be offered special care to safeguard their own health and minimize the risk of passing the virus to their baby. Because young people are particularly socially and emotionally vulnerable, VCT must be properly sustained, with follow-up provided. Post-test support services, especially for young people who are HIV positive, should serve as a safety net to help them continue to meet their health, psychological and financial needs.

VCT services can be integrated into existing services, antenatal care clinics, family health services, youth-friendly clinics and should be accessible to young people from marginalized groups such as sex workers and migrants. Confidentiality must be respected at all times. VCT services can also be provided through youth clubs, free-standing clinics or mobile vans.

  1. Work with young people and promote their anticipation 

Energetic, enthusiastic and creative, young people are a tremendous resource in all areas of HIV prevention and care. Their input is invaluable in programme design and outreach, ensuring that prevention and care efforts are meaningful to young people, that information is communicated through effective channels, and that the messages conveyed are relevant to their everyday lives.

Involving young people in prevention efforts educates them about HIV and gives them a sense of responsibility and pride. With the right skills, young people can be extremely effective messengers. They are already tapped into their own peer networks and speak the same language as the group they are trying to reach.

.Peer education Serving as peer educators is an effective way for young people to participate in HIV prevention and care efforts. For many young people, their peers serve as a major source of information on sexual issues. Properly trained, peer educators can dispel misconceptions, shatter myths and present information on preventing HIV in a way that other young people will find pertinent.

Young people are already participating in prevention efforts in many ways. They are starting HIV/AIDS prevention clubs in schools, directing youth-initiated projects in their communities, and working with governments and non-governmental organizations to develop, implement and monitor programmes. The most effective projects are those that are sustained over time, enabling young people to feel challenged and engaged and to assume a lasting sense of responsibility.

  1. Reach out to young people mostly at risk 

This is an especially difficult challenge, but a vital one, both to protect young people and to prevent concentrated epidemics from spreading into the wider population. Young people at especially high risk for contracting HIV:

  • Girls in underage marriages 
  • Male on male relationships 
  • Children living on the street
  • Child soldiers
  • Refugees
  • Orphaned children 
  • Drug users 
  • Youth who are sexually exploited and are often on the periphery of society and face enormous difficulties in obtaining help.

They need access to livelihoods, education and services to enable them to build their future. Interventions for them must take into account the range of constraints they face and help to establish an environment marked by respect, acceptance and stability. This is key to enabling them to reintegrate into society

Harm reduction, a treatment approach that seeks to minimize the most harmful consequences of unsafe behaviour can be especially effective with young people engaged in high-risk behaviours. When applied to drug use, for example, the approach underpins longer-term strategies to end or reduce drug use by taking immediate steps to reduce the chief harms from drug use, including the transmission of HIV/AIDS, by such measures as providing clean needles and condoms.

  1. Create safe and supportive environment 

Providing young people with information and skills without ensuring that they feel safe and supported at home, at school and in their community severely limits their ability to protect themselves from HIV. Parents, schools and social institutions need to be supplied with the knowledge and skills to create an environment in which girls and boys are safe from harm, cared for equally and treated with respect.

Schools and communities must be unequivocal in condemning sexual violence, abuse and exploitation, particularly of children and adolescents. Governments must make sexual violence unacceptable by enacting and enforcing laws that protect young women and men from all forms of sexual violence, inside and outside marriage, as well as imposing criminal penalties on the culprits.

  1. Engage young people who are living with HIV

A major challenge in HIV prevention is to convince young people that HIV/AIDS can indeed impact anyone. Among the most effective ways to do this is for young people living with HIV/AIDS to share their own experiences. Young people living with HIV/AIDS are in a strategic position to reinforce information about the need to adopt and maintain safe behaviours. They, more than anyone else, can convey the message that individuals must make every effort to ensure that no one else contracts HIV. They can reduce the stigma associated with the virus by showing that it can infect anyone. They can be effective role models for how to live healthy, productive lives with HIV. They can make major contributions to the design and implementation of prevention and care efforts.

Unfortunately, in places where stigma and discrimination remain strong, these young people can suffer grievous harm from revealing their HIV status. People living with HIV must be left entirely free to choose whether to ‘go public’, when and with whom. When they do so, they must receive social support and legal protection allowing them to lead normal lives. All young people living with HIV need medical care to prevent progression of the virus, as well as other support services.

Strengthen partnership  

Protecting young people from HIV is too big a job for any one sector of society. To make a real and lasting difference, the commitment and resources of all sectors must be mobilized and coordinated, and channelled to families and communities. There must be a commitment to bring people together at every level community, nation, region, worldwide to invest in young people. The partners must include non-governmental and civil society organizations, including faith-based organizations and the private sector; governments; young people; academic and research institutions; private foundations; bilateral donor agencies; and the United Nations and other multilateral agencies.

Youth link networks in support to reduce on the spread of HIV among young people

As Youth Link Networks, we provide both pre and post HIV care. We do all this through psycho- social support, mentorship and coaching. We also provide logistical support to clients who have challenges in accessing the health facilities. 

Youth Link Networks created a youth mentor model. These are also termed as community structures touch basing deep in the communities to support youths living with HIV.  The youth mentor model are youths living with HIV and disclosed their status to the community and willing to support others going through what they went through. Through coaching and mentorship by the Youth Link Networks team, these youth mentors are equipped with the needed information and later cascade it to youth within the community. 

Youth Link is partnering with different service providers to support people living with HIV these include local, national and international entities. We carry out synergy building meeting to get to know each other well and share annual work plans intended to support the community. These gives us as room to discuss the suitable services that are best for the community.

HIV cases are unresolved and those living with the virus will require continuous support. In this case therefore, we are creating sustainability strategy through farm and crunch project where we provide beneficiaries with seeds for planting to practice substance farming to earn a living and understand the benefits of nutrition and a healthy lifestyle. 

People living with HIV need care and support to feel free in the community. This will only be possible if we sensitize the community to make them appreciate the situation others are living in. As promised by YLNetworks, we will always be there to support our beneficiaries to get the best services needed.    

Defeating the virus

Defeating HIV/AIDS will also require tracking change, both in the infection rates and in the knowledge, awareness and behaviour of young people.

The youths have higher chances of acquiring HIV due to social and financial factors and when they contract the virus, there are higher chances that they will spread it to fellow youths without sparing them. 

We have a community to serve, and we are implementing life changing services on a limited budget to make a difference so please join us in the fight to change lives for an strong and healthy generation of future leaders.  

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