Sentebale launches Let Youth Lead programme
Prince Seeiso, Co-Founding Patron with Prince Harry of Sentebale, officially launched the newly developed advocacy programme, called ‘Let Youth Lead’ at the charity’s Youth HIV Summit at the Mamohato Children’s Centre in Lesotho on Friday 4th April 2017.
Prince Seeiso, Co-Founding Patron of Sentebale says; “Youth are the future… Invest in the future you want and have the capacity to drive positive change.”
Between the 4th-7th April, Sentebale hosted at its flagship facility, the ‘Mamohato Children’s Centre, eleven youth advocates aged between 18-24-years-old from across Lesotho. Working with UNICEF, Sentebale identified this group of youth activists who are willing to represent children and young people from across the country encouraging them to test for HIV and receive the relevant follow up care and treatment. The group spent three days receiving training on becoming a youth advocate, learning how to engage leaders and decision-makers, attending workshops addressing the psychological impact of this role, and presentation tips for speaking at district, national, regional and global forums on behalf of youth. On the final day, Sentebale’s youth advocates presented to over 100 people, including government ministries, young people and NGO representatives, on challenges faced by youth affected by HIV in Lesotho and their recommendations to combat these issues. These included youth-tailored health services and opening hours, better attitudes towards young people seeking healthcare and a commitment from government officials to support the advocates in their work in the future.
Thato, youth advocate in Lesotho who attended the summit says; “We need capacity building and we need finances to support our activities. You need to invest in us if we are to be the future.”
It is reported that, of the 3.2 million children living with HIV, 91% live in sub-Saharan Africa (UNAIDS Gap Report, 2015). While the total number of AIDS-related deaths in all age groups fell by 35% between 2005 and 2013, AIDS-related deaths in adolescents increased by 50%. (UNICEF, 2013). HIV is the number one cause of death in adolescents in Africa and Lesotho and Botswana have the second and third highest infection rates of HIV in the world respectively.
Sentebale and other organizations working with young people affected by HIV have highlighted the following issues that prevent children and adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa accessing life-saving health services, these include:
- Lack of youth-friendly services
- Transitioning to adult services
- Disclosure of HIV status
- Stigma and discrimination
- Adherence to treatment
- Despair over a bleak future
There is a need to empower youth and give them a platform to articulate these challenges and to engage policymakers to drive positive change in the provision of HIV interventions that better support adolescents and young people. It is against this background that Sentebale has developed the Let Youth Lead advocacy programme with youth engagement, empowerment and intergenerational dialogue at the heart of it.
The launch of the Let Youth Lead programme followed a two-day youth summit held in Botswana, at the end of the Month of Youth Against AIDS (MYAA). Over 100 young people attended the summit from across the country along with 50 officials from the relevant government ministries, UN and other international agencies, national NGOS dealing with HIV and the private sector. Similarly to in Lesotho, the barriers preventing youth knowing their HIV status and accessing relevant follow up care was discussed.
Masedi Sentebale Youth Advocate, Botswana says; “Stop treating HIV like a wound – the bandage doesn’t work.”
In Botswana, the assembled youth advocates presented their resolutions to the UNAIDS Country Director, Dr Sun Gang. In Lesotho, youth advocates presented the case for specialist training for healthcare providers and centralizing young people in the development of HIV programming. The National AIDS Commission noted their concerns, believing that initiatives like the Let Youth Lead programme will help to end AIDS.