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5 December 2011

Getting to Zero: Youth and HIV/AIDS

On 1 December 2011, the United Nations (UN) observed World AIDS Day 2011. Both at the UN, as well as around the globe, people were advocating for zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths. At UN Headquarters (UNHQ), a briefing was organized that specifically addressed the role of youth in the global campaign to eradicate HIV/AIDS. This briefing examined the profound impact of HIV/AIDS on young people and the effects of HIV/AIDS-related stigma and discrimination in their educational and other settings. The meeting also looked at how young people can serve as agents of change in preventing and ultimately leading the way to “Getting to Zero” and eradicating the disease.

The “Getting to Zero” Strategy of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) for 2011-2015 includes: zero new HIV infections, by revolutionizing HIV prevention; zero discrimination, through advancing human rights and gender equality for the response to HIV; and zero AIDS-related deaths, by catalyzing the next phase of treatment, care and support.

According to the UNAIDS 2011 World AIDS Day Report, there are 34 million people living with HIV worldwide; of these, over 5 million are between the ages of 15 and 24, most of them living in sub-Saharan Africa. While significant progress has been made, for every person treated, two are infected. New strategies, such as the UNAIDS CrowdOutAIDS Campaign, are embracing the need to engage and empower young people as “agents of change,” emphasizing that it is the youth of the world who must change their behaviours, take control of their destinies, and design their own future. Young people all over the world are coming together to answer this call.

These efforts represent significant successful examples of the collective response to HIV/AIDS. Declines in new infections have been occurring in 21 countries, specifically some of the hardest hit countries in sub-Saharan Africa. UNAIDS advocacy aims to ensure that these declines will continue by encouraging the wise investment of resources and an exclusive focus on strategies that have proven effective. For the first time in thirty years, a future with zero new infections, zero AIDS-related deaths, and zero discrimination looks possible.

At UNHQ’s celebration of World AIDS Day, panellists included Maria-Luisa Chávez, Chief of NGO relations at the UN Department of Public Information (DPI); Eric Sawyer, Civil Society Partnership Advisor at UNAIDS; David Hoos, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health; Lawrence Stallworth of the AIDS Task Force of Greater Cleveland; and Allen Frimpong, of the NGO Youth R.I.S.E.

Dr. Hoos presented a rather optimistic overview of the fight against HIV/AIDS, noting that the numbers of infection have been decreasing as access to treatment is increasing in all regions, and that the availability of tools for prevention is growing, along with educational awareness. He especially called attention to increased access to antiretroviral treatment (ART), which saves lives and advances prevention efforts: 6.6 million people currently receive ART, and AIDS-related deaths have decreased from 2.2 million in 2004 to 1.6 million in 2010. When it comes to children and youth, antiretroviral drugs are saving more and more children’s lives and new infections among children were 30% lower in 2010 than in 2002.

Mr. Sawyer listed out a series of actions taken by the United Nations over the past few decades in its fight against HIV/AIDS. He mentioned UN Security Council Resolution 1983 (June 2011), which reaffirmed the significance of the epidemic to individual, national, and global security and which recognized the links between HIV and violence against women. The UNAIDS advisor also mentioned the aforementioned UNAIDS “2011-2015 Strategy,” which not only recommits the global community to achieve universal access to ART by 2015, but also articulates a number of global targets, transforming the principle of universal access from a vague aspirational goal into concrete and measurable objectives, as well as the importance of integrating the response with efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) — and welcomed the UN Secretary-General’s Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health.

Mr. Sawyer recommended that AIDS advocacy would include the following aspects:

-  Recognize that young people, especially young women, have specific needs which must inform the design of programmes;

-  Collect, compile, and disseminate data on all relevant UN General Assembly’s Special Session on HIV/AIDS(UNGASS) indicators, including on HIV treatment by age and sex;

-  Track resources on AIDS spending categories that are relevant to young people, and obtain commitments from national governments for investing in HIV and young people;

-  Scale up the provision of comprehensive sexuality education in and out of school;

-  Expand condom use and promote the use of both male and female condoms;

-  Build awareness among young people of their rights to sexual and reproductive health information and services;

-  Allocate and sustain resources to HIV programmes for young people; and

-  Mobilize and enhance a movement of young people as agents for change.

Mr. Stallworth shared his experience from his work in the Cleveland, Ohio area. He called upon “the generation that can end AIDS” to take action in the fight against HIV/AIDS. “It is my belief that as young people we hold the biggest stake in the future.… We are the agents of change and as the future is ours to shape we have a duty to take an active role in shaping it,” he said. “Let us stand together […] with unwavering resolve and renewed faith that after thirty long years the battle may finally be coming to its end,” Mr. Stallworth concluded.

The panel also raised the alarming fact that the number of people with HIV is rising because of new infections, but also because of increasing access to treatment allowing people with HIV to live longer. Additionally, global advocacy must acknowledge the economic costs of ART. One panellist noted that he has to spend on average US $2,500 per month for medication that he will have to take for the rest of his life. Finally, the panel concluded by emphasizing that HIV/AIDS is not just a medical issue, but also a social justice issue; the campaign to eradicate AIDS must address the complexities of the epidemic.

To view the webcast of the UN’s celebration of World AIDS Day 2011 at UNHQ, please click here.

For "2011 World Aids Day Statements" from across the UN system, click here.

For more information, see UN Advocacy surrounding World AIDS Day 2011

Recent publications

Besides from the World AIDS Day Report 2011, UNAIDS recently released the “Global HIV/AIDS Response – Progress Report 2011,” which documents progress achieved in the health sector response to HIV; and “UNAIDS Data Tables 2011” – a set of data tables that describe the progress in more detail, as well as the main challenges to achieving zero HIV infections and zero AIDS deaths.

See also:

General Assembly’s Political Declaration on HIV\AIDS: Intensifying Our Efforts to Eliminate HIV/AIDS

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