Adolescents should not be the missing face of AIDS
KIGALI, Rwanda, 9 November 2011 - At the nation’s seventh annual conference on Children and HIV, UNICEF emphasized the importance of investing in adolescent-appropriate prevention and care programmes to ensure that young people, who make up almost half of new infections both globally and in Rwanda, do not become the missing face of AIDS.
The conference, organised by Rwanda’s Biomedical Centre in partnership with UNICEF, will span three days and bring together over 200 experts from Rwanda and neighbouring East African countries to discuss issues facing adolescents in the national HIV response. Adolescents, including those who live with HIV, will also attend sessions to share their ideas about how to improve prevention, care and treatment programmes adapted to their needs.
The conference’s opening ceremony was attended by Rwanda’s Minister of Health, UNICEF’s Deputy Regional Director for East and Southern Africa, Ms. Elke Wisch, Rwanda’s UNICEF Representative, Ms. Noala Skinner and other top officials.
Rwanda’s Minister of Health, Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, who was also the Guest of Honour for the opening ceremony, spoke to youth, during her address, asking them to speak out and make their views heard. She also promised them that she would do her best to implement all the recommendations that they put forward at the end of the conference. “No country can build its future if we do not invest in our children,” she emphasized.
Ms. Wisch, who also spoke at the opening ceremony, commended Rwanda’s for addressing the concerns of adolescents. “We hardly hear about the challenges facing adolescents affected by HIV on the global stage,” said Ms. Wisch. “We rarely see them targeted in prevention efforts and, of increasing concern, we find few treatment programmes adapted to their special needs.”
According to UNICEF, two million adolescents aged 10-19 already live with HIV, many of who do not know their HIV status. In addition, 2,500 young people are infected with HIV around the world every day. And young people aged 15-24 account for 41% of new infections globally and 40% in Rwanda.
Rwandan adolescents face three main challenges. One, they lack information and knowledge about how to protect themselves from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Two, many of them do not know their status and are at an age when they are sexually active and engage in unprotected sex. And three, those who live with HIV have often lost one or both parents to AIDS, face stigma and discrimination and sometimes live in child headed households.
According to UNICEF the time to act for adolescents is now. To reduce new infections, mortality and morbidity in adolescents, actions that result in increased access to information, adolescent-friendly HIV testing and counseling, treatment and prevention services including condoms and medical male circumcision, and strengthened social protection for these young people are key.