Prince Harry unites HIV leaders to listen to youth

The charity, Sentebale with its Founding Patron Prince Harry, is teaming up with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine to address the barriers associated with preventing youth in Southern Africa from knowing and managing their HIV status.

During a visit to the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine on Monday 10 July, His Royal Highness and School Director Professor Peter Piot will welcome global leaders in HIV/AIDS for a special roundtable discussion. They will hear from Sentebale ‘youth advocates’ from Lesotho and Botswana who will describe first-hand the challenges facing young people affected by HIV in southern Africa, and the reasons they believe youth across the region are failing to test for HIV and access the relevant follow up care and treatment.

Sentebale’s young advocates leading a HIV education session in Lesotho

Ahead of the roundtable session, Prince Harry will be given a tour of the School where he will learn of its vital work in combating some of the world’s most pressing health issues. His Royal Highness will hear about Peek, an organisation which aims to increase access to eye care by using apps and other technology to find people living with avoidable blindness. His Royal Highness will have the chance to try out the Peek Acuity app, which teachers in countries including Botswana are using to test the vision of children in their class as part of Peek school screening programmes.

Prince Harry will be given an overview of the School’s response to the recent Ebola epidemic in West Africa, which saw staff volunteering “on the ground”, conducting real-time data analysis and modelling techniques, as well as clinical trials of vaccines and education.

The Prince will meet researchers working on various interventions to improve HIV treatment in adolescents, the effects of community-wide testing and treatment on youth, and the links between domestic violence and women and girls’ risk of HIV. Prince Harry will see the demonstration of a HIV self-testing kit, currently being used in a trial in Malawi where women attending antenatal clinics are given the kits to pass on to their male partners. His Royal Highness will also hear about an ongoing trial in Zambia and South Africa, exploring how a new approach to test and treat whole communities for HIV may affect HIV-related stigma.

The WHO reports that HIV is the number one cause of death of adolescents in Africa; Lesotho and Botswana have the second and third highest infection rates of HIV in the world, and around 7,500 young women become newly infected with HIV every week in South Africa (UNAIDS, 2015). The fear of what others may think, a lack of self-confidence, and too often a hostile response from health care professionals result in youth shying away from accessing health services that are available to them.

Following the tour, Prince Harry will join the roundtable session, in which Sentebale’s beneficiaries from Lesotho and Botswana will present to an audience of global and regional thought leaders on HIV/AIDS.

The roundtable follows a number of activities, including two youth summits held in Lesotho and Botswana, delivered under Sentebale’s newly launched Let Youth Lead programme, aimed at encouraging all youth in sub-Saharan Africa to know and manage their HIV status by 2020.

Youth Summit in Lesotho

Sentebale has been providing psychosocial support to children and adolescents living with HIV over the last decade. This support takes the form of monthly Saturday clubs and residential weeklong camps, which help children to accept their HIV status amongst peers in a safe environment, addressing their mental health and wellbeing, improving their adherence to medication and allowing them to lead healthy, happy lives. Caregiver days aimed at their parents, grandparents or guardians also educate on how best to support the children living with HIV in their care, in particular encouraging them to take their medication. Additionally, the charity is working with the Ministry of Health in Lesotho to deliver adolescent-friendly HIV testing and counseling services across multiple regions in the country, and since 2015 has tested over 25,000 people.

The Let Youth Lead programme builds upon this existing work by providing a platform for youth to advocate to their peers to test for HIV, and articulate the steps they require to drive positive change in the provision of HIV interventions that better support the needs of this age group in the region, in addition to Sentebale’s existing programme for those living with the virus.

Cathy Ferrier, Sentebale CEO, said: “As the data shows, adolescents and young people in sub-Saharan Africa have been left behind in the AIDS response leading to an increase in new infections and death rates. From our experience of working with this age group, we know that stigma and discrimination are major factors inhibiting them accessing the lifesaving treatment they need.

“Sentebale has ambitious plans to reach many more children and adolescents affected by HIV across sub-Saharan Africa, and believe that by investing in young people, delivering psychosocial support, training and platforms such as the Let Youth Lead Roundtable, we will see a reduction in adolescent deaths and youth themselves can lead they way to us ending the AIDS epidemic.”

Professor Peter Piot, Director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, who was formerly founding Executive Director of UNAIDS, said: “AIDS is not over. The largest generation of adolescents in history is at risk of HIV, and the situation is particularly urgent for adolescent girls and young women in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2015, nearly 7,500 young women aged 15–24 years acquired HIV every week. Most of these new infections were in Southern and Eastern Africa where adolescents may often struggle to access HIV prevention and treatment. Services aren’t always well tailored to young people’s particular needs, and rarely engage with the reality of being a young person living with or at risk of HIV.

“At the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, we work with partner organisations like Sentebale to use the best evidence-based interventions to prevent HIV and empower young people affected by HIV/AIDS. We need to understand what young people go through, and that’s why I’m delighted that Prince Harry is such a courageous and effective advocate and that young people’s voices will be heard at this event. Their experiences remind us that we need to work together as a global health community, allowing all young people – whatever their HIV status – to lead healthy, happy and productive lives.”

In 2015, Sentebale announced plans to scale up its operations in Lesotho and expand into five southern Africa countries by 2020, delivering psychosocial support to 10-to-19-year-olds that are struggling to come to terms with living with HIV. In December 2016, Sentebale launched the first few weeks of camp in Botswana to 150 children and subsequently has just launched its 100th monthly Saturday club, which over 3,000 children and adolescents are registered for across Lesotho and Botswana.

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