ICASA 2008: Princess Mathilde of Belgium highlights the role of young people in Africa’s AIDS response
05 December 2008
Participants in a series of ICASA sessions on youth leadership and Africa’s AIDS response were in clear and unanimous agreement: young people are vital to preventing new HIV infections and moving towards the goal of an AIDS-free generation.
UNAIDS and UNICEF Special Representative HRH Princess Mathilde of Belgium was one of those who reconfirmed her commitment to youth and HIV issues. Attending ICASA 2008 this week, today she participated in two sessions on heightening the engagement of young Africans’ in the AIDS response.
Princess Mathilde and UNAIDS Executive Director Dr Peter Piot opened the first session on youth leadership, which was moderated by UNAIDS Special Representative Gaetano Kagwa, a Ugandan national and well-known AIDS advocate. They were joined by representatives of youth non-governmental organizations from Cameroon, Botswana, Senegal, and Zambia.
Dr Piot introduced Princess Mathilde and commended her for her engagement and activism with AIDS and young people.
During her opening remarks, Princess Mathilde shared three points that can be instrumental in an improved response to AIDS in Africa: young people need to be more engaged and included in HIV programmes; leaders must provide youth with platforms to be heard; and young people themselves have to step forward and serve as examples in their communities and to share knowledge about HIV prevention. Princess Mathilde concluded by calling on girls and young women to be active participants in the AIDS response.
At an afternoon session, “Intergenerational dialogue: Where are the young leaders in the African response to AIDS?” Dr Piot and Princess Mathilde were joined by other leaders and representatives from several African youth organizations.
With a strong presence of young people in the audience, the panellists expressed their optimism for Africa’s next generation but outlined the challenges that lie ahead in terms of confronting the impact of AIDS on young people – one of the groups most affected by HIV.
Throughout the day’s sessions, participants stressed the need to better address HIV and young people given that young people remain at the centre of the AIDS epidemic in terms of increasing rates of infection, vulnerability, impact, and – most importantly – potential for change.
Globally, an estimated 5.5 million of the 33 million living with HIV are young people aged 15-24 years and about 45% of new HIV infections in 2007 were among 15 to 24 year olds.