Sentebale, UNICEF and NAC host AIDS Youth Conference
On the 30th August, Sentebale hosted, in partnership with the National AIDS Commission and UNICEF, the first AIDS youth conference at the ‘Mamohato Children’s Centre. Twelve young people who attended the 21st International AIDS Conference (IAC) in Durban between the 18th and 22nd July 2016 led the conference. A further sixty young people from all ten districts of Lesotho attended, including people living with HIV and with disabilities.
HIV remains the number one cause of death amongst adolescents in Africa. In Lesotho, UNAIDS reports, HIV is twice as prevalent amongst young women than young men and only 38.9% of young women and 28.7% of young men have a comprehensive knowledge of HIV. Stigma and discrimination continue to push young people into the shadows, preventing them from accessing life-saving services.
The Demographic Health Survey, Lesotho (DHS) 2014, highlights that there are still challenges in getting young people 15 to 19 year olds to access HIV services. The report showed that in 2013, only 40% females and 25% males tested for HIV. Additionally, the report shows very low Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) coverage among children and adolescents.
At the IAC in Durban, during a lunchtime session titled “Ending AIDS with the Voices of Youth”, Founding Patrons of Sentebale – Prince Harry and Prince Seeiso – and Sir Elton John addressed the audience with a group of young panellists from around the world to discuss how young people have been left behind in the fight against HIV and AIDS. The young speakers told the audience that the greatest way they can be supported, is to be given a platform to be heard, and most importantly involved in policymaking concerning them.
It is with this background that the youth conference on the 30th August was been established; to provide feedback on lessons learnt in Durban and to sensitize and mobilise political, religious and traditional leadership towards renewing their commitment to addressing and working with young people in the AIDS response. The youth in attendance spoke with confidence and clarity about their experiences in Durban. In response, the Deputy Ministers of Education and of Gender, Youth and Sport invited young people to come and talk to them and wanted to work with them in the future. Prince Seeiso, founding patron of Sentebale, said; “Youth in their respective communities and organizations must establish a peer to peer platform to support one another.”
Cathy Ferrier, Sentebale CEO said; “One of the messages that came out of the International AIDS Conference in Durban was that young people living with HIV need to be given the opportunity to speak out about the challenges they face. Our AIDS Youth Conference is about providing a platform for an open discussion with young people in Lesotho and those who can influence change.”