Authors: Ipsa Agnani, monitoring, evaluation and learning associate, and Ronard Lubaga, advocacy associate.
In July, the HCDExchange through its Youth Leadership Hub held the second virtual town hall event. The first of two sessions was a panel discussion with Rajesh Rana, director (media) at National AIDS Control Organization, Ministry of Health (Government of India); Ekanem Itoro Effiong, UNAIDS youth leader for West and Central Africa; and Arthur Davies, health journalist at South African Broadcasting Corporation on designing an adolescent- and youth-centered HIV response.
The second session was three virtual inter-regional focus group discussions, each held in its own breakout room and facilitated by one of the panelists. Participants, representatives of youth-led organizations, discussed the following questions:
- How is the HIV response organized in your country, and how can it be better designed to serve adolescents and young people?
- What are some challenges to creating a youth-centered response to HIV?
In responding to these questions, participants said that it is imperative for nations to continue to destigmatize HIV and to advocate for an adolescent and youth-centered approach to HIV. Most countries have organized media campaigns to destigmatize HIV. Young people have instituted clubs at their schools to educate their peers on HIV. Despite these efforts, there is room for improvement. Governments need to ensure a wider reach of health professionals to remote rural areas. HIV information must be integrated into the school curriculum (it is absent in some countries). Hotlines for HIV-related enquiries should be set up.
From listening to experiences from the different regions, it was evident that the lack of information about HIV causes rampant stigma, which is the biggest barrier to creating an effective HIV response. All participants agreed that meaningful youth engagement must be part of the HIV response, and that funding to ensure this is critical.