By CABRIE KEARNS, PARTNERSHIPS AND DEVELOPMENT MANAGER, The ISIS Foundation
Today marks 25 years since the first World AIDS Day and, in that time, the world has made incredible progress in the fight against AIDS. So much so that we have recently seen world leaders begin to call for “the beginning of the end of AIDS”— something that would have seemed impossible a decade ago.
In spite of this progress, we are losing the fight in some areas. Across the globe, more than two million adolescents live with HIV and many are either unaware of their status or are not being treated. It is a travesty that, while we have seen a 30 percent decline in reported AIDS-related deaths between 2005 and 2012, inadequate services for adolescents have led to a 50 percent increase in AIDS-related deaths in this demographic.
These tragic statistics underscore the importance of this year’s World AIDS Day theme — HIV and Adolescence — and why more needs to be done to improve HIV education, testing and treatment for young people.
Caring for people with HIV/AIDS has been an important part of my life. I have worked for non-profit organisations that support people living with HIV in developing countries. I also witnessed the deterioration and sadness this disease brings when, as a young girl, I saw my uncle die of AIDS-related causes.
Today, I am proud to work for ISIS, which supports the HIV programme at Kiwoko Hospital in Uganda. Since 2005, ISIS have been supporting a weekly clinic that provides a place for teenagers to have fun and receive confidential counselling, treatment and testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
I recently visited Kiwoko Hospital where I met an incredible teenage girl who is an advocate for adolescents living with HIV. While she had experienced stigma because of the disease she stands strong to help other people.
Julie* was unknowingly born with HIV. At age four, her health deteriorated so much that she was admitted to Kiwoko Hospital where she was diagnosed. She was enrolled into the HIV programme and received medical and nutrition support at the clinic. Since then, she has found the support from the counsellors and nurses at the adolescent HIV clinic invaluable.
Julie is now aged 17 and is healthy and vibrant. She is an advocate for teenagers on the importance of HIV prevention, testing and treatment, and plans to start a support group to encourage other young people to get tested. This is important because fewer than 15 percent of young people aged 15 to 24 in Uganda know their HIV status.
There is much opportunity globally to harness the energy of young people like Julie to drive the fight against HIV. To turn the tide on this disease, we must refocus our efforts with adolescents and empower them with information so they can change attitudes and behaviours, starting this World AIDS Day.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the youth.